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Reaction to revised four-month refugee ban ranges from concern to opposition


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Within hours of President Donald Trump’s new executive order March 6 banning arrivals from six majority-Muslim nations, Catholic and other religious groups joined secular leaders in questioning the wisdom of such a move, with others vowing to oppose it outright.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement, “As the world’s most blessed nation, we should be doing more to provide assistance overseas and resettle the most vulnerable, not less. It is wrong, during this time of great need, to cut humanitarian assistance and reduce resettlement.”

O’Keefe added, “Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism that we seek to protect ourselves from. By welcoming them, we show the world that we are an open, tolerant nation which seeks to protect the vulnerable. That has always been America’s greatest strength.”

“At the heart of the work of Catholic Charities is the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, in a statement.

“Today’s executive order not only hinders that work, but also effectively abandons, for four months, the thousands of endangered refugees fleeing violence, starvation and persecution,” she added. “It is deeply disturbing to know that the thousands of women, children and other persecuted individuals around the world will face a closed door rather than a helping hand from the United States.”

The revised order replaces Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which has been blocked in the courts. The new order imposes a 90-day ban on issuing visas to people from six predominantly Muslim nations; Iraq is no longer on the list. The countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

It suspends the U.S. refugee program for all countries for 120 days; Syrian refugees are now not banned indefinitely. The order limits the total number of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year to 50,000, instead of 110,000, as the Obama administration directed.

The order also excludes lawful permanent residents, green card holders, from any travel ban. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Trump’s new order still puts vulnerable populations at risk.

“We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences” of the order, he said in a statement. “While we note the administration’s efforts to modify the executive order in light of various legal concerns, the revised order still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

He said the Catholic bishops welcomed Iraq being removed from the list of countries, but remain disappointed the order still temporarily shuts down the refugee admissions program, reduces by more than 60 percent the number of refugees who can enter the country and still bars nationals from six countries.

The bishops “have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” Bishop Vasquez said. “However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

“A ban regarding human beings, because they are from a certain country or practice a particular religion is clearly xenophobic, nationalistic and racist,” said a statement by Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA.

“Now is the time to honor the commitment for justice expressed in all faith communities and to proclaim this commitment with actions that uphold the rights of all people,” she added.

Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said that Columbans “have always welcomed migrants and refugees, we do so every day at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“We must always remember that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees and we are called to stand in solidarity with them,” he said.

People of faith “are called to both address the root causes of migration and seek policies of welcome toward our migrant sisters and brothers,” Wright continued. “We stand against any policies that seek to build a wall, inhumanely detain and deport women and families, or limit migration based solely on a person’s country of origin or religion.”

Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Congregation of Major Superiors of Men, called it “completely unjust to punish an entire country due to the suspicion of a potential crime by an individual.”

“We should be asking about the root causes of violent acts, such as U.S. militarization of conflicts, and giving our attention to addressing those concrete situations,” he said in a statement.

“Women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany and serve immigrant and refugee communities across this country for a very long time,” said a statement by Holy Cross Sister Joan Marie Steadman, executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “Catholic sisters remain committed to welcoming those who come to this country after passing through the U.S. government’s already rigorous screening processes.”

Larry Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, aimed his statement directly at Trump.

“Mr. President, why close our borders to those fleeing real atrocities, fleeing the ravages of war and the search for food, clean water and safety?” Couch asked. “This is not what America stands for and not who we are called to be. America is not a country that retreats and Americans choose to not live in fear of the ‘what if.’ Mr. President, welcome the refugee and welcome the face of God.”

“The ban goes against everything that we stand for as Franciscan Catholic Christians, and against what Jesus and Francis of Assisi taught and lived,” said a statement from Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. “St. Bonaventure tells us that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference, first in what we become by our choices and second what the world becomes by our choices.”

A statement from the organization’s associate director, Franciscan Sister Marie Lucey, tied the situation of refugees and the need to welcome them into the U.S. to Lent.

“For Christians, Lent is a season of repentance for personal and social sin. The Franciscan Action Network will stand in prayer and solidarity with Muslim sisters and brothers, as well as all refugees and immigrants, during the forty days of Lent,” she said.

“While opposing bans and harmful executive orders, we also pray for a change of hearts and minds of this administration and legislators who support anti-refugee and anti-immigrant measures,” Sister Lucey added. “We will also continue to speak out against this injustice which is as cruel and unusual as it is astounding and irreconcilable.”

Sara Benitez, Latino program director for the interfaith group Faith in Public Life, said that once again Trump “is compromising our integrity as a nation.”

“The refugee ban introduced today is rooted in the same immoral and divisive policy we saw a few weeks ago, and we will not stand for it,” she said in a statement.

“We must continue the work on the ground to stand up for our immigrant and refugee neighbors who are under threat,” added Benitez, whose organization amassed dozens of pastors for a midafternoon protest March 6 in front of the White House.

Faith in Public Life also has mounted a “Build Bridges, Not Walls” campaign to list ways people can support refugees and other immigrants.

“The new order doubles down on demonizing refugees — implying that America should fear those who have been persecuted, tortured, threatened and victimized by terrorists. America is diminished when we abandon our values and close our doors,” said a statement by said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, or LIRS.

“Had the new executive order been in place last month, it would have likely prevented LIRS from reuniting Mushkaad Abdi, a 4-year-old Somali refugee who was alone in Kampala, Uganda, with her mother and sisters in Minneapolis,” Hartke added. “To close our nation’s doors on those who are simply seeking safety and protection is shameful and misguided.”

“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies, it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe,” said a statement from Eric Schneiderman, New York state’s attorney general.

Schneiderman took the White House to court after Trump’s first executive order; other court challenges around the country followed.

“My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate, again, in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy,” Schneiderman said.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. called the new order “nearly as egregious” the earlier version. “While this order no longer includes an indefinite bar on refugees from Syria and has dropped the visa ban for Iraqis, it still fails to honor American ideals and protect people whose lives are at risk,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC.

Without commenting on the executive order itself, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said: “There’s a dire need for President Trump to issue a separate executive order — one specifically aimed to help ISIS (Islamic State) genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria. … Even if ISIS is routed from Mosul (Iraq), the Christian community is now so shattered and vulnerable, without President Trump’s prompt leadership, the entire Iraqi Christian presence could soon be wiped out.”


Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Catholic agencies have long forged relationships with new House speaker


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — With his election as speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Paul Ryan may have taken the most difficult job in American politics.

Incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is greeted by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Oct. 29 after the election for a new speaker for the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ryan was elected with 236 votes. (CNS photo/Gary Cameron, Reuters)

Incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is greeted by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Oct. 29 after the election for a new speaker for the U.S. House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ryan was elected with 236 votes. (CNS photo/Gary Cameron, Reuters)

The Wisconsin Republican is faced with keeping his party’s conference unified as he takes a position that places him third in line for the presidency. He has vowed to change business-as-usual in the House by building broad consensus for legislation and pledged to eschew last-minute, closed-door deals.

In accepting the position after his election Oct. 29, Ryan said he wanted to get the House working again for the American people who work hard every day but continue to slip backward economically and see little hope from their elected representatives because they see “chaos” in the House.

“Let’s be frank. The House is broken. We’re not solving problems. We’re adding to them, and I’m not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean,” he said from the speaker’s podium.

Ryan’s leadership skills will be tested as he faces the prospect of having to corral the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 ultraconservative representatives who loathe any compromise with Democrats and President Barack Obama.

Observers from Catholic agencies who have worked with the former House budget committee chairman call him intelligent and ready for the task. They credit his two-plus decades of experience on Capitol Hill and his expertise in how the government works, including the budget process. They said he appears to want to solve the problems facing the country, especially the needs of 46.5 million Americans living in poverty.

“Regardless of what position he’s in, we want to continue to work with him because he’s a policymaker who cares about this (poverty) issue,” said Brian Corbin, senior vice president for membership relations at Catholic Charities USA.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said the agency also is looking forward to working with Ryan in his new position “to make sure that critical poverty-focused programs are not sacrificed in the battles in Washington.”

While Ryan is not one to wear his Catholic faith on his sleeve, several observers noted that he understands Catholic social teaching and comprehends the guiding principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.

“You can use the language of the church and immediately engage in conversation with him,” said Jayd Henricks, executive director of the Office of Government Relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ryan also is said to have cemented his relationship with the some members of the U.S. church hierarchy and counts as close advisers Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is former archbishop of Milwaukee, and Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, 40 miles northwest of his home parish, St. John Vianney, in Janesville.

Catholic observers also credit Ryan, a nine-term veteran of the House, for his pro-life votes on abortion and his support for the U.S. church’s stance on religious liberty.

Catholic Charities maintains what Corbin described as a good working relationship with Ryan. In March 2014, Ryan visited a Catholic Charities program in Racine, Wisconsin, in his district, where he met clients who had been teamed with a case manager and learned how they were on the way to self-sufficiency. He later convened a House budget committee hearing on alternatives to addressing poverty and invited a Catholic Charities director from Fort Worth, Texas, to testify.

Later that summer, he highlighted case management services in his proposal to tackle poverty, which he called Expanding Opportunity in America. It encompassed a series of measures he believes will reduce poverty. At the time he said it was meant to jump-start a nationwide discussion on poverty, which has yet to occur.

While not an ideal proposal in the minds of some advocates for the country’s poor, observers said it shows that Ryan is willing to adapt his thinking when he encounters new information.

Corbin said Catholic Charities continues to advocate for funding intensive case management in the campaign to end poverty. Corbin told Catholic News Service that Ryan maintained in meetings with agency officials that “government is the rearguard and social service agencies are the vanguard” when it comes to serving poor and struggling people.

“He really wants to talk about poverty and different solutions,” Corbin explained. “That’s really good to have someone at the policy level who wants to spend the time to see what really works.”

While Ryan’s interest in poverty has been lauded, it also has raised some concerns among advocates because his budget proposals have called for deep cuts in vital social services, including those aiding poor people, children and the elderly.

In the past, two committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went on the record expressing concern for deep spending cuts in programs such as the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program, housing subsidies, Medicaid and Medicare in letters to Congress. The concern ran so deep that in 2011, the USCCB convened the Circle of Protection, an umbrella organization of faith-based allies vowing to protect funding for social services and international developmental aid.

Still, Henricks told CNS he has found Ryan willing to think in new ways to approach the country’s problems.

“While at times we may have challenged the priorities he and the Republican conference may have identified, I will say he (is) … still trying to think creatively about how to address poverty. We may not have always been on the same page (on the budget), but I would say he has a real desire to address poverty in a real way,” Henricks said.

“A fair characterization of Ryan is that he’s willing, he welcomes thinking outside the box,” Henricks continued. “He’s not somebody who is just tied to current structures. … That’s one of the reasons he’s an attractive pick for speaker because regardless of where you are politically he is one who is willing to entertain many new ideas.”

There have been more vocal challengers to Ryan’s policies. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, has publicly sparred with the congressman on host of issues.

While crediting Ryan for holding the hearing on poverty, Sister Simone, a member of the Sisters of Social Service, said the new speaker has spoken of the social services safety net as a “hammock.”

“We’re trying to get him to see it’s not a hammock and that people are working hard,” she told CNS. “He continues to see that people working, in poverty are there because they’re lazy.”

However, Ryan faces other trials, Sister Simone added.

“The challenge is going to be he thinks he knows everything Catholic,” she said. “And he doesn’t understand really what subsidiarity is about in that he thinks subsidiarity is about individualism. He doesn’t understand it’s the group working together at various levels to reach the common good.”

She also expects that Ryan will be confronted by “individualists” in the Republican conference who want to greatly reduce the role of government no matter the social cost.

What’s certain is that Ryan did not seek the position with its supposed prestige. One advocate, who asked not to be named, suggested he was “taking one for the team” in a time of tumult in the Republican conference. The advocate said the party must show that it can govern given while they hold majorities in both houses of Congress.

With a budget deal now passed and the debt ceiling raised until March 2017, Ryan is starting with a clean slate primarily because of the work of Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the outgoing speaker.

Whether Ryan will be as influential on key pieces of legislation as he was as chairman of the House Committee on the Budget and then this year as he began to rewrite tax policy as chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means is not likely to be seen between now and the 2016 election. The same holds for immigration reform, a major goal of the U.S. bishops, as Ryan is reported to have agreed not to bring any bill on the issue to a vote as long as Obama is in office.

But if Ryan can change the tone coming from the Republican-controlled House, it may signal to voters that more can be accomplished beginning in 2017 no matter who wins the coveted White House.


Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Federal agency’s conscience rule gives church officials some hope


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A little publicized policy directive from the U.S. Agency for International Development is getting a closer look from religious freedom advocates and promoters of conscience protections in federal law.

Months in development, the directive offers one of the broadest and most inclusive conscience protections to faith-based organizations funded by USAID to operate AIDS treatment and prevention programs and other health care programs around the world, Catholic observers said.

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