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US religious leaders make forceful appeal to admit refugees

In rare agreement across faith and ideological lines, leaders of major American religious groups have condemned proposed bans on Syrian refugees, contending a legitimate debate over security has been overtaken by irrational fear and prejudice.
Top organizations representing evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and liberal Protestants say close vetting of asylum seekers is a critical part of forming policy on refugees. But these religious leaders say such concerns, heightened after the Paris attacks a week ago, do not warrant blocking those fleeing violence in the Middle East.
“The problem is not the Syrian refugees,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, who noted how his state has welcomed a large number of Cuban refugees over the years. “This is falling into the trap of what the terrorists wanted us to become. We shouldn’t allow them to change who we are as a people.”
About 70 percent of all refugees admitted to the U.S. are resettled by faith groups, according to the U.S. State Department office for refugees. The bulk of the work is done by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Church World Service, representing Protestant and Orthodox groups, are each responsible for about 10 percent. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Episcopal Migrant Ministries also handle several thousand cases.
The Rev. Russell Moore, head of the public policy agency for the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant group, said screening is crucial and “we should insist on it,” but he said evangelicals should not “demagogue the issue as many politicians are doing right now.”
“Evangelicals should be the ones calling the rest of the world to remember human dignity and the image of God, especially for those fleeing murderous Islamic radical jihadis,” Moore said.
Lawmakers and more than half of U.S. governors, mostly Republicans, have said they were worried Islamic extremists may try to take advantage of the U.S. refugee process. Some governors are refusing Syrian refugee settlement in their states for now. They point to a passport found near the body of one of the Paris suicide bombers that had been registered along the route asylum seekers are taking through Europe. It’s not clear how the passport ended up near the attacker.
On Thursday, the U.S. House voted by a veto-proof majority to pass legislation which in effect would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Stephan Bauman, president of World Relief, called the bill “without rational basis” and “a huge disservice.”
“Differential treatment, with no clear justification, amounts to discrimination on the basis of nationality,” Bauman said.

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