Washington - Leaders of major US religious groups have
condemned proposed bans on Syrian refugees, contending a legitimate debate over
security has been overtaken by irrational fear and prejudice.
Top organisations representing evangelicals, Roman
Catholics, Jews and liberal Protestants say close vetting of asylum seekers is
a critical part of forming policy on refugees. But these religious leaders say
such concerns, heightened after the Paris attacks a week ago, do not warrant
blocking those fleeing violence in the Middle East.
"The problem is not the Syrian refugees," said
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who noted how his state has welcomed a large
number of Cuban refugees over the years. "This is falling into the trap of
what the terrorists wanted us to become. We shouldn't allow them to change who
we are as a people."
About 70% of all refugees admitted to the US are resettled
by faith groups, according to the US State Department office for refugees.
Rev Russell Moore, head of the public policy agency for the
conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant
group, said screening is crucial and "we should insist on it," but he
said evangelicals should not "demagogue the issue as many politicians are
doing right now."
Lawmakers and more than half of US governors, mostly
Republicans, have said they were worried Islamic extremists may try to take
advantage of the US refugee process. Some governors are refusing Syrian refugee
settlement in their states for now. They point to a passport found near the
body of one of the Paris suicide bombers that had been registered along the
route asylum seekers are taking through Europe. It's not clear how the passport
ended up near the attacker.
On Thursday, the US House voted by a veto-proof majority to
pass legislation which in effect would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi
refugees. Stephan Bauman, president of World Relief, called the bill
"without rational basis" and "a huge disservice."
Reform Judaism, the largest American Jewish movement, joined
the American Jewish Committee, an influential policy group, the Anti-Defamation
League, the Jewish civil rights organization, and the Orthodox Union, in
opposing any halt in resettlement.
Refugees already go through a comprehensive vetting process
that can take as much as three years, including biometric screening,
fingerprinting and additional classified controls. Some lawmakers are now
demanding even tougher assessments.
Rev Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, said in
a Facebook post that new immigration policies are needed because, "We
cannot allow Muslim immigrants to come across our borders unchecked while we
are fighting this war on terror."
Still, many faith leaders who share those security concerns
are condemning the tone of the current discussion.
The Orthodox Union said "we encourage a sensible
process of reviewing and enhancing security," with the goal of
"getting to yes" on admitting asylum seekers. But the group said,
"Neither partisan politics nor xenophobia can have a place in that