Monday is Christmas Day. Christmas is a day of great joy and excitement as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. At Mass, we give thanks to God for a love so great that he gave us his Son. At home, we exchange gifts with our family and friends, and gather around the table for Christmas dinner. On Christmas Day, we celebrate the Christ child, and no one enjoys Christmas more than children. But three days later comes the feast of the Holy Innocents.
The infant Jesus was a political refugee
The Gospel reading for December 28 tells the story of the massacre of all the little boys in Bethlehem. Herod ordered the slaughter in order to kill the infant Jesus, whom the magi had called the king of Israel.
When Herod realized he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
But Jesus escaped Herod’s reach. In a dream, an angel warned Joseph of the danger. Joseph therefore took Mary and Jesus to Egypt for refuge. They remained there until Herod was dead. Mt 2: 13-18 (NAB).
This story has disturbing resonance today. Desperate to hold onto power, a Middle Eastern tyrant orders the murders of vast numbers of his own people. Some escape, and take refuge in another land.
The refugee problem is a great moral and religious crisis.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, currently there are 22.5 million refugees, more than half of whom are children. 5.5 million refugees have fled Syria.
New U.S. policy bans many refugees
In a recent article, I discussed Strangers No Longer (SNL), a letter on migration issued by the bishops of Mexico and the United States. One of the principles guiding SNL addresses refugee policies: “Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.” SNL ¶ 37. Unfortunately, the current refugee policy of the U.S. government is at odds with this principle.
At present, U.S. policy is to enforce a discriminatory refugee policy. It bans refugees from eleven so-called “high risk” countries. The problem is that there seems to be no evidence that refugees, from these or other countries, are much of a risk at all. Recently, the Cato Institute found that “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year ….” Terrorism and Immigration p. 1 (emphasis in original).
This does not mean that the government should ignore security concerns when determining whether to grant refugee status. A government has the right and the duty to protect its citizens. Guadium et spes ¶ 79. To refuse to process a refugee application based on such a doubtful threat does not enhance security. People in worn-torn failed states, such as Syria, often are the most in need of refuge. But the U.S. policy prevents even the consideration of refugee status for these people. Consistent with SNL, individual refugee applications should be given full consideration. This includes rigorous vetting for security. Until this happens, however, the United States’ discriminatory refugee policy compromises its moral integrity.
The U.S. has slashed the number of refugees who may enter the country
Recently, the U.S. State Department announced that the United States will admit no more than 45,000 refugees in fiscal year 2018. This is barely 40 percent of the 110,000 refugees annually permitted previously. Again, the decision is based on the undocumented claim that under the current rigorous vetting process, admission of refugees presents a security risk to the American people.
The State Department’s action is already damaging the Church’s efforts to come to the assistance of refugees. For example, the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque announced that it is forced to shut down its 77-year old refugee resettlement ministry. Archbishop Michael Jackels said: “Our faith guides us to believe in the dignity of all persons and the need to protect the most vulnerable, especially refugees and migrants. It is with a heavy heart that we announce the ending of this ministry.”