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PC(USA) part of ecumenical rally for refugees at White House

Faith, human rights groups call on Biden administration to reform immigration and asylum

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Organizers of the Restoring Welcome Vigil & Action were (left to right), Anne Lizette Sta. Maria (CWS Intern), Bilal Askrayar (Welcome with Dignity Campaign), Sharon Stanley-Rea (Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Giovanna Oaxaca (ELCA-AMMPARO and co-chair of the IIC Working Group on Asylum), Kristin Kumpf (American Friends Service Committee and co-chair of the IIC Working Group on Asylum) and Susan Krehbiel (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance). (Photo courtesy of Susan Krehbiel)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was represented at a vigil and action in front of the White House Wednesday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and call on President Joe Biden to do more to reform the United States’ immigration and refugee policies.

“Today, I’m reminded that 70 years ago, it was declared that refugees should have the right to seek wage-earning employment and the right to self-employment,” Susan Krehbiel, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Associate for Refugees & Asylum, said to the crowd in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. “And we know, as people are concerned about welcome with dignity, that how you’re treated when you arrive has long-term consequences. So, we call today for an end to mandatory detention of asylum seekers and ankle monitors, because we know this creates a stigma in the hearts of American people and prejudice in the minds of potential employers.

“So, we stand with you for welcome.”

Daniella Burgi-Palomino with the Latin America Working Group speaks to the crowd assembled for the Restoring Welcome Vigil & Action July 28, 2021 across from the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Susan Krehbiel)

Krehbiel also read from an op-ed written by the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“Seventy years ago, this week, top world leaders came together for the first Refugee Convention, a cornerstone of refugee protection with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” Nelson wrote. “This group imagined and hoped they could solve an international crisis. They quickly learned that the root causes which created refugees could not be solved quickly and would require a constant and persistent response. Our resolve to welcome refugees is about a ministry of compassion, accompaniment, resilience, and hope. Presbyterians have understood this for decades.”

So have members of other denominations, as the crowd at the event demonstrated. It was organized by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and co-hosted by Human Rights First, American Friends Service Committee, Church World Service, and Faith in Action.

Click here to see a recording of the Restoring Welcome Vigil & Action

In addition to commemorating a historic event, participants were issuing a call to the man and administration across the street from the park.

Susan Krehbiel of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance with the door that was part of the Restoring Welcome Vigil & Action on July 28, 2021 in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Susan Krehbiel)

“The primary focus of today’s event was to call President Biden’s attention to the need for significant asylum reform — redressing hundreds of executive policies on asylum from the past four years as well as some policies that go back to 1996,” Krehbiel said after the event.  “In calling for ‘Welcome with Dignity’ we express our belief that it is time to reimagine our asylum policies. Treating asylum seekers with suspicion and abusive practices inflicts harm against the individual refugees at the hands of U.S. officials and stokes fear in the minds of the American people.”

In particular, participants in the action called for the end to Title 42, invoked last year by then-President Donald Trump, which bars entry to the United States to stop the spread of disease, and to expand access to asylum including a humanitarian reception system with welcoming hubs at the border and case management.

“We must restore life-saving asylum protections for people seeking asylum in the United States,” Ana Ortega of Human Rights First said, crediting Biden with reversing some Trump-era policies, but saying the administration has made missteps too, and much more needs to be done.

Rev. Michael Wilker, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Reformation/ELCA in Washington, D.C., is shown speaking also on behalf of LSS of National Capital Area at the Restoring Welcome Vigil & Action. Next to him in the Mayan dress is Maria Chavalan Sut, sanctuary leader. (Photo by Susan Krehbiel)

Rev. Michael Wilker of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation/ELCA said, “Seventy years ago the UN Convention on Refugees said no one should be returned to a country or territory whose life or freedom would be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Returning refugees and asylum seekers to their persecutors in their home countries or leaving them vulnerable to violence in other countries is against international law and is against God’s commandments to protect our vulnerable neighbors.”

Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director of Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. & Canada, pointed out that across Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, we are called to welcome and care for all people.

The event included a door, symbolic of welcome, and participants placed messages of welcome on it during the event.

“We want to send a message to Congress and the administration that we need their moral leadership to stand with us,” Krehbiel said. “We the faith communities, human rights organizations, and especially the refugees and asylum seekers are ready to do the hands-on acts of welcome.”

Gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to support Refugee and Asylum ministries.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


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