Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Executive actions on refugees and immigrants: The facts and figures

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Catholic Church has worked closely for decades with government agencies in clearing candidates for entry into the United States and knows the process well. As the White House website itself notes, when it comes to refugee screening, the process is extensive and exhaustive and involves the review of various government agencies, e.g., the National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. The screening looks for indicators such as information that the individual is a security risk, has connections to known bad actors and has outstanding warrants or criminal violations.

Throughout this process, pending applications continue to be checked against terrorist databases to ensure new, relevant terrorism information has not come to light. If a match is found, that case is paused for further review. Applicants who continue to have no flags continue through the process. If there is doubt about whether an applicant poses a security risk, they will not be admitted.

All of those turned away with the recent executive orders regarding refugees went through this process, which lasted months and followed years of their living in refugee camps. At the last minute, even if they were screened and received proper documents, they were denied entry.

Our experience in refugee settlement also has taught us that it helps to protect us against terrorism. Pope Francis put it well when he observed: “welcoming refugees is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.” We have also learned that resettling refugees places tangible examples of America’s humanitarian values in sometimes insecure regions. In other words, resettlement of refugees here and elsewhere is a strategic program whereby we welcome a small number of the most vulnerable refugees and share the humanitarian responsibility with key strategic allies in countries and regions that are disproportionately affected by forced displacement. It not only saves refugees’ lives but helps to bring stability and security to geopolitically sensitive regions.

Americans can be proud of a heritage of being an international leader in refugee resettlement. Since World War II the U.S. has been able to convince our friends and allies to provide additional support for refugees around the world. The vast majority of the world’s refugees live in countries that neighbor those that they fled. These refugee-hosting countries require infrastructure support and commitments to resettlement to keep their doors open. It is in our best interest, as we seek regional stability in the Middle East and elsewhere, to help these countries by resettling some of the refugees they are hosting.

It should also not be lost on us that no citizen from any of the seven countries named in the executive order has committed an act of terrorism killing Americans in the U.S. The same cannot be said for citizens of countries not on the list, leaving thoughtful people in the U.S. and in the international community struggling to divine its logic.

Language that depicts refugees and immigrants as a burden is not only unfortunate, but untrue.

Resettled refugees and immigrants are eager to give back to the country that has welcomed them and have made significant economic and social contributions to their communities. Newly arrived refugees have been the driving force behind the rejuvenation of many cities across the United States. Those granted refuge in the U.S. successfully support their families, pay taxes and contribute to the country. As a work force, refugees are employed in many sectors of the U.S. economy, including the hospitality and food-service industry, the teaching profession, engineering and medicine. They enrich our culture as previous generations of immigrants and refugees have, bringing their songs and cuisine, their holidays and their literature in the always evolving and exciting mix that is the American culture.

Of course, we also know that our country is proud to call citizens those who came to our shores as refugees, including Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and Sergey Brin, the founder of Google. All are former refugees who have contributed to America. Additionally, many immigrants and refugees have contributed extensively to the American economy through entrepreneurism. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Oracle, Tesla, IBM, Uber, Yahoo, eBay and AT&T were all started by first- or second-generation immigrants — some from the countries that are on the executive order list of banned countries.

History and humanity, facts and figures. These are the issues that should focus our attention, not fears and falsehoods. Using an image from the statement of my brother Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, now is not the time to pass the torch of Lady Liberty to other lands. It should remain where it is, as it reminds us of what has made America great.