At Heart Of Refugee-Resettlement Debate, A Rift Between Church And State Indiana's governor has asked the Catholic Church to halt a plan to resettle Syrian refugees in the state. Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski explains why he expects the archdiocese to move forward anyway.

At Heart Of Refugee-Resettlement Debate, A Rift Between Church And State

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The resettling of Syrian refugees in this country has become a political flashpoint. On Friday, Texas dropped its request in federal court for a restraining order to block Syrian refugees from entering the state. A Syrian family, including two young children, is now expected to arrive in Dallas on Monday. By contrast, in Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence asked the Catholic archdiocese in Indianapolis to turn down a family of Syrian refugees expecting to start new lives in that state later this month. Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami serves on the migration committee at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I asked him what happened when Indiana Gov. Pence met with Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin earlier this week.

THOMAS WENSKI: They had a frank exchange of views. I think the governor was saying, don't take these people, and the archbishop was saying, think it over, governor, and don't stand in the way of a humanitarian and Christian and American solution to the plight of this family.

NEARY: So there's been no final decision yet?

WENSKI: Well, I think the archdiocese is still planning to bring the family into its resettlement program. I don't believe the governor has the legal authority to prevent that from happening at this point. But I think the Archdiocese of Indianapolis would be happier to have the governor's OK or approval, at least that he doesn't try to make the situation difficult for this family because, basically, the church has no interest in introducing a family that has already been traumatized by being uprooted in their own homeland into a situation where they would find hostility or danger.

NEARY: It seems now that the concerns are more about security. People are afraid that terrorists might sneak in somehow with the large influx of Syrians who are leaving their country. Are you planning to try and work in any way to reassure local and state governments that this is not a problem?

WENSKI: What we're trying to tell them is to take a deep breath - to take a deep breath because, first of all, you know, to scapegoat these refugees is not very American. And if ISIS wanted to infiltrate people in the United States, they could do so without using Syrian refugees, especially when the Syrian refugees are undergoing almost a two-year process of vetting that is quite thorough. It is not the NGOs that are vetting them. It's the State Department and Homeland Security and whoever they require to help them in doing that vetting process.

NEARY: This isn't the first time that Gov. Pence has blocked a Syrian family from coming to his state. Another family last month was not able to be resettled. They came through a different agency. They weren't able to be resettled in Indiana and had to move to Connecticut instead. What happens here to this family that the church is trying to resettle in Indiana? Will they be accepted elsewhere if they can't move there?

WENSKI: Well, I think that would be the alternative. And certainly, we would look through our network of, again, through our diocese and Catholic charities and find a suitable location for them. The bishops' conference, under its program of migration and refugee services, has settled hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 30 or 40 years. I think some Syrians have probably already come to the United States in the past years. I know that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis wanted to go forward. But as I said earlier, it's nobody's interest to introduce traumatized people into an environment that would be hostile to them and perhaps even put them in danger.

NEARY: Archbishop, thanks so much for joining us.

WENSKI: Thank you.

NEARY: That's Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who joined us from member station WLRN in Miami. We reached out to the office of Gov. Pence. They said they had not received word on a final decision from Catholic charities.

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