Trump Refugee Ban Clashes With Faith-Based Groups' Religious Missions Six of the nine agencies that resettle refugees in the U.S. are religious groups. Their leaders say the president's decision to halt the refugee flow runs counter to their beliefs and ministry.
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Trump Refugee Ban Clashes With Faith-Based Groups' Religious Missions

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Trump Refugee Ban Clashes With Faith-Based Groups' Religious Missions

Trump Refugee Ban Clashes With Faith-Based Groups' Religious Missions

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Most of the refugees arriving in the United States are resettled here by faith-based organizations. These groups see this work as a kind of ministry. And as NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, they are not happy with President Trump's plan to suspend the refugee programs.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: In Judeo-Christian scripture, God's commandments on the treatment of foreigners and strangers could hardly be more clear. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament to Christians, the Israelites are reminded they were themselves aliens once in the land of Egypt.

From the Book of Leviticus, (reading) the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you. You should love the alien as yourself. That guidance continues in the New Testament. In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, (reading) I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

Linda Hartke is president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which, over the years, has resettled a half million refugees and migrants here.

LINDA HARTKE: It is deeply ingrained in our faith and our understanding of the Bible that we're called to welcome the stranger, to love and serve our neighbors - not the neighbors that we choose but the neighbors that God gives to us.

GJELTEN: Whether Christian or not, the idea of prioritizing Christian refugees as President Trump plans to do does not come from her church or from most other Christian groups, for that matter. Hartke says since word leaked that Trump wants, at least temporarily, to close America's doors to refugees, her phone has been ringing off the hook.

HARTKE: Those are hard calls to take, to have to tell people that the president's decisions will likely mean that there won't be refugees that they can be welcoming in the months and perhaps years ahead.

GJELTEN: The faith groups active in refugee resettlement have been, in Hartke's words, strategizing in recent days over how to respond to the president's executive order. Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services, thinks they need to make more clear to Americans that the refugees have been carefully screened.

SEAN CALLAHAN: We have found that the refugees who have come to the United States have been thoroughly vetted and that they have been placed in homes. And actually, it's been an enriching experience as opposed to a threat.

GJELTEN: How much resistance to President Trump's refugee ban might we expect? Here's Mark Hetfield, president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

MARK HETFIELD: The faith groups are going to kick and scream and object to every aspect of this disgusting, vile executive order which makes America out to be something that it is not. You know, we are a country that welcomes refugees.

GJELTEN: Though, as Hetfield points out, there have been interruptions in that history, as when Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were turned away.

HETFIELD: Those are periods that we now look back upon with horror and shame. And what is particularly offensive to me, leading a Jewish refugee organization, is that he's signing these executive orders on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

GJELTEN: Many Evangelical Christians are in town this week for what they're calling the March for Life rally, making known their opposition to abortion. A majority of evangelicals voted for Trump in part because of his promise to appoint judges who will take a strong stand on abortion.

But many say their broader concern is human dignity. While there is more sympathy among these evangelicals for Trump's decision to halt the refugee flow, it's not absolute. Jim Daly is president of the Focus on the Family.

JIM DALY: If it's a temporary pause to create a screening process that helps find people that are trying to get in to do harm to this country, I understand that. But I would also support a robust program to re-establish immigration because that's what this country is built upon, and it's a great Christian tradition to bring people in who are hurting.

GJELTEN: Within the evangelical world, there are dissenting voices. Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, told The Huffington Post this week that the refugee question, in his view, is not a Bible issue. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPOON SONG, "INSIDE OUT")

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