It hits hard that one of the first Syrian families turned away in the new wave of fear following the Paris attacks was a family coming to Indiana. They were part of the long-standing processes shepherded by Church World Service (CWS) in partnership with federal government screenings. Many Christian denominations, including my own, have partnered with CWS for nearly 70 years in resettling refugees. We have done so responding to the repeated call of scripture to welcome the widow, the orphan and the stranger.
According to CWS, the particular family in question had been in process for three years. They had gone through the extensive screening all refugees must endure in order to come to the US: examination by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), State, and Defense, including biometric (fingerprint) and biographic checks, medical screenings, and a lengthy interview by specially trained DHS officers. In the case of refugees from Syria, additional forms of security screening are performed.
Indiana had always been the intended place of refuge for this family of young parents and a now 5 year old child. Instead they are in Connecticut. This, in itself, is not a tragedy. Connecticut is a lovely state. But what the re-routing says about our fearfulness and lack of courage is disappointing.
I understand Governor Pence’s instinct to protect the people of Indiana. That is his job, and I’m grateful he’s taking it seriously. But reflexively turning away victims of Syrian brutality is a short-sighted view of security. It only intensifies the international opinion that the U.S. is unwilling to open its massive resources to help the less fortunate. It makes us the bad guy – the one would-be terrorists would want to take down a notch.
It has been alleged that to accept larger numbers of Syrians would mean short-circuiting the screening. President Obama has said this is not so. People desiring to enter our country will continue to be vigilantly reviewed – as was this unfortunate family. Those who are cleared for resettlement are eager to rebuild their lives and integrate into their new communities. They should be welcomed with open hearts and minds, not fear and discrimination.
My prayer is that Indiana, with its vaunted Hoosier hospitality, will have compassion for what these families are enduring to come to our shores. My prayer is that families like the one that had been preparing for three years to make their home in Indiana, will be able to do so – that our political and community leaders will live up to our country’s legacy of welcoming refugees. I pray that Lady Liberty (a gift from France so long ago) will be able to stand tall and mean it when she says, “Give me your tired, your poor…”
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