Refugees

South Carolina Bill Worries Immigration Advocates

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Evangelical advocates for immigration reform are concerned that proposed South Carolina legislation will make it more difficult for faith groups to help refugees in the Palmetto State. The bill, which passed a state Senate committee in late January, could make organizations that sponsor refugees liable if the new residents should later commit a terroristic act or other crime.

Immigration Activists Deliver 136K ‘Stop the Raids’ Signatures to White House

Image via Megan Cagle/Church World Service

With chants of “Hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama!” and "Que queremos? Justicia! Cuando? Ahora!" a diverse group of immigration activists and leaders made their way from St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square to rally at the White House on Tuesday. They were there to demand that the Obama administration stop deporting Central American asylum seekers and instead grant them Temporary Protected Status. With them they carried boxes full of more than 136,000 petition signatures calling for the same.

Immigration, Polarized Politics, and a Bear Called Paddington

Via paddington.com

When debates get polarized it can be hard to find our way back to more reasonable territory. We see it happening right now on the issue of U.S. immigration policy or the refugee crisis in Europe. It’s hard to make progress because we have gotten stuck at the extremes. We have demonized one another – an easy thing to do with people whose positions appall and offend us. Compromise? Why would I compromise with someone who is so obviously wrong!

'Give me a few of your tired, your poor...'

ArtMari / Shuttertstock

ArtMari / Shutterstock

WITH THE GLOBAL refugee crisis worsening every day, thank goodness we’ve put the Christmas season behind us, what with its pesky reminders about welcoming the stranger, finding room for weary travelers, and great things coming from little poor kids. It got pretty uncomfortable there for a while.

To compensate, some of us even started altering our long-held perceptions with a critical eye, like maybe Joseph and Mary should have called ahead to reserve a room, or used Uber instead of that donkey, or at the very least packed better for the baby. Swaddling clothes just don’t cut it as a lining for your standard manger, and straw is no substitute for a quilted blanket. I know for a fact that straw pokes uncomfortably through most fabrics, something I learned as a young boy who thought he could jump into some hay bales after being told not to, and then stood in front of his parents, covered in straw, and denied it. (On laundry day, mom cleared out the lint trap with a pitchfork.)

As a nation, it seems we lost some of our yuletide spirit this past season, and I’m not just referring to the palpable lack of gratitude expressed by family members when unwrapping the gifts I had lovingly purchased at the Dollar Store. With almost 4 million refugees fleeing Syria, many of our political leaders responded in ways that seemed inappropriate. Maybe not as inappropriate as giving frankincense and myrrh to a poor newborn (a month’s diaper service might have been the better choice), but surprisingly uncompassionate. The U.S. agreed to take only 10,000 of the refugees, less than 1 percent of the growing total, but even that was 100 percent too many for most Republican governors. To be fair, their reluctance does comport with the nation’s long-standing decree: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, after a two-year wait, a background check, a blood test, and a cavity search, yearning to be free of these several questionnaires which we’ll process right after lunch.” (It wouldn’t all fit on the front of the Statue of Liberty, so it continues on the back. A lot of people miss that.)

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Pope Francis Renews Call to Welcome Refugees While Ensuring Security

Image via REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/RNS

Pope Francis has called on European leaders not to turn their back on refugees and migrants despite the cultural and security challenges associated with the arrival of 1 million people this past year. Francis has made concern for migrants a centerpiece of his papacy, and on Jan. 11 in his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See he again urged governments to “overcome the inevitable fears associated with this massive and formidable phenomenon.”

'Syrian Refugees Welcome Here'

Greg Henry / Shutterstock

Greg Henry / Shutterstock

LAST FALL, MAYORS of 18 U.S. cities sent a letter to President Obama, promising to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms. Atop the list was Ed Pawlowski, the mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania’s third largest city.

Pawlowski said his evangelical Christian faith—and America’s founding ideals—shaped his decision. “We like to say that America was built on Judeo-Christian principles,” he told Sojourners. “Then let’s follow our Judeo-Christian principles, which tell us to welcome the stranger because we were once strangers ourselves.” So far, about 10 Syrian refugee families have come to Allentown in the past year. More are expected.

There’s been some pushback from older Syrian immigrants in the community. Allentown is home to about 5,000 Syrians, many of them Christians who fled persecution in the past. Most of the new arrivals are Muslim.

Aziz Wehbey, head of the local American Amarian Syrian Charity Society, told CBS News he had concerns about the background checks on the new arrivals. “We need to know who we are welcoming in our society,” said Wehbey.

Another local Syrian charity, the Syrian Arab American Charity Association, has collected donations of food, furniture, and clothing for the refugees. So has St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, where many Syrian immigrants worship.

Pawlowksi has spent a great deal of time talking to residents about their fears, such as concerns that the area will become “overrun” with refugees. He stressed that only a few families are coming to Allentown. They’ve lost everything, the mayor said, and need help: “We can handle this.”

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How to Have Hope for a New Year

Aside from midnight church services, family reunions, and Ryan Seacrest parties, a significant number of people will celebrate New Year’s Day from the less festive setting of one of the many Syrian refugee camps, in countries like Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, or Iraq. These camps symbolize the narrative of the millions of Syrians who have fled their homeland due to the civil war raging since 2011. Their past is filled with political and financial trauma associated with refugee life. Their future is even more threatening as they struggle to reunite with loved ones, deal with the tragic deaths, and readjust to a new life where their Syrian passports may be their single economic asset. Their future is largely unknown. For these survivors, what is so “happy” about 2016?

Evangelicals Commit to Refugee Resettlement Efforts

World Vision’s U.S. President Rich Stearns, center, visits with Syrian refugees in Irbid, Jordan. Photo by Jon Warren, courtesy of World Vision

Rejecting fearmongering about the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., about 100 evangelical leaders are calling on Christians and their churches “to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting.”

“Our statement is to change a narrative of fear and instead focus on faith and compassion,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. “Our desire is not to resettle everybody in another country. When a house is burning down, we need to put out the fire and rescue people fleeing the fire.”

Encountering God Along the Journey

In this season of preparing for Christmas, there is a growing number of unaccompanied children arriving on the U.S. southwestern border. The numbers have been increasing in the last few months, enough to move government offices to prepare for their coming. National security continues to be the most important governmental concern, but even then, laws require that migrant children detained by our government be fed and sheltered until they can be released to a legal sponsor. It leads me to wonder: If governmental offices are preparing to receive these unaccompanied children, then what are we Christians doing to prepare to receive them?

Every Christmas as the story of the birth of Jesus our Lord is read in congregations and in homes there are always the laments about how sad and even cruel it was that there was no place for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. Where was the loving and caring welcome for them? We cannot change the most unwelcome reception the Christ Child received at his birth, but we can learn from it.

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