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Presbyterian leaders and partners hail president’s immigration orders

‘This is the news for which we have been hoping and praying and advocating’ 

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Protesters show their support for more humane immigration policies in the United States. (Photo from Ra-dragon via Unsplash)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders and partners are celebrating executive orders from President Joe Biden as positive and hopeful signs for refugee resettlement in the United States.

“Presbyterians have been intimately involved in resettlement ministries and know the importance of this program,” said Amanda Craft, manager of Immigration Advocacy for the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly. “We celebrate Biden’s decision to increase resettlement numbers. We ask that the U.S. government be courageous as we welcome refugees. May this lead to greater family reunification and security for many who wait decades to find a permanent home.”

On Feb. 4, Biden released an executive order which sets a goal to resettle 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022 (Oct. 1, 2021 – Sept. 30, 2022) and commits to several operational improvements to create a more robust U.S. resettlement program. This order was in stark contrast to policies of former President Donald Trump, which had placed vast restrictions on and impediments to immigration and set resettlement at historic lows.

“The Executive Order from President Joe Biden is a welcome first step,” said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, Associate Director of Advocacy for the PC(USA), in a statement. “The President has acted quickly and boldly to revoke past executive orders (13815 and 13888), which increased the vetting process making it more difficult for refugees to gain admission into the United States.

“This turnaround is welcomed as the U.S. should renew its commitment to welcoming those who are persecuted and unable to manage any semblance of a holistic life in their homeland. God does not recognize the national boundaries created by nations and calls us to embrace the sojourner and the refugee. (Genesis 23:4, Deut. 10:19, Lev. 19:34)”

Susan Krehbiel, Associate for Refugees & Asylum for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), highlighted a portion of the order that prioritized family reunification.

“I am encouraged to see the U.S. Government’s recommitment to refugee resettlement in general and specifically in ensuring that the resettlement operations reflect our priorities and values,” Krehbiel said. “The goal of refugee resettlement is to offer permanency, a long-term solution for those who have lost their homelands.

“For too long the U.S. refugee resettlement program has treated family reunification as secondary importance. In fact, family separation during forced displacement is common. And we know that refugees cannot fully integrate until their family is made whole. Family reunification, therefore, needs to be a cornerstone of resettlement and proactively addressed as part of the annual consultations and on-going operations.”

Susan Krehbiel (right) of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Rhonda Kruse protest family detention in Berks County, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of Susan Krehbiel)

Krehbiel pointed out that Presbyterians have longstanding involvement in welcoming refugees to the United States, including helping to launch not-for-profit organizations through task forces and leadership. According to 2016 and ’18 surveys, PDA estimates 9% to 10% of PC(USA) churches participate in some form of hands-on refugee ministry.

“PDA is already working with other PC(USA) offices and Church World Service to assist local congregations as they develop or redevelop refugee welcome teams,” Krehbiel said.  “We are also thankful for the ways Presbyterians partner with local refugee resettlement offices to create welcoming communities where refugees can thrive.”

See “Preparing Welcome,” a guide for welcoming refugees, from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Office of Immigration Issues

Presbyterian partners across the United States also welcomed the order from Biden, who has been in office less than a month.

“People of many faiths share the common call to welcome the refugee,” said the Rev. Alice Fleming Townley, a pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Okemos and co-founder of The All Faith Alliance for Refugees in the Presbytery of Lake Michigan. “With deep gratitude and relief, we applaud the new presidential executive order to ‘rebuild and expand’ refugee resettlement. Refugees strengthen our communities. Lowering the number of persons admitted to the U.S. has cost lives and opportunities. As interfaith leaders, we organized to tell stories, raise money, and sustain our Lansing area resettlement office.

“This is the news for which we have been hoping and praying and advocating.  And we have work to do for this new day.”

See a video about Presbyterian support for refugees in Lansing, Michigan.

Compassion, Peace & Justice Advocacy Days from a few years back at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Karen Chamis, Resource Presbyter for the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse, is peeking out from behind the “Welcome” sign. (Photo by Paul Olson)

Karen Chamis, Resource Presbyter for the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse, said, “Seeing the phrase ‘must be treated with dignity and respect’ in the executive order is disheartening because it points to a need to codify our ability as a nation to see refugees as human. I’m grateful to serve in a denomination that has long embraced refugees as neighbors and siblings, and am thankful that, once again, my country will extend that same welcome. I know that Cazenovia Welcomes Refugees (a community-based initiative in Cazenovia, New York) will continue to provide a space where both refugees and Cazenovia residents can create a community where the values of dignity and respect are fostered and shared.”

El-Shaddai Vision Church, a 1001 New Worshiping Community in North Carolina’s Salem Presbytery, is a church made up of refugees and immigrants from the eastern part of Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We are happy finally the government is thinking of the welcome of a big number of refugees in the USA,” wrote Pastor Prince Mundeke Mushunju, leading pastor at El-Shaddai. “Before coming to this wonderful land, most of us were in difficult situations in refugee camps, and we are happy that now we can live peacefully and get what (we need) to live on. As former refugees, we happily welcome refugees in our community and help them get used to the environment. As those who are grateful for being here, we are committed to participate in the building of this nation through work and tax payments. We work with Church World Services, Congolese Community of Piedmont Triad and all refugees.”

Martha Willis, Chair of the Board of Directors for Immanuel House in California’s Presbytery of San Jose, hailed the section of the order that said resettlement must capitalize “on community and private sponsorship of refugees, while continuing to partner with resettlement agencies for reception and placement.”

“Over the past five years Immanuel House, a transition house for refugees … has received a steady but dwindling supply of residents referred by the two resettlement agencies we work with, the Northern California office of the International Rescue Committee and Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley,” she said. “Both these agencies have been forced to reduce services and staff because of recent federal immigration policies. When the network of secular and faith-based resettlement agencies that perform the vital reception and placement work for the U.S. government is rebuilt, more refugees can be welcomed and their transition to a new life in the U.S. will be smoother.

“We look with hope to our role in that renewed work, for us a ministry of hospitality.”

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

Give to One Great Hour of Sharing to enable Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to respond quickly to catastrophic events.

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