Faith Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Refugee Resettlement Order

President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Three faith-based groups that assist with refugee resettlement are suing the federal government, arguing a recent executive order granting state and local officials the authority to block refugee resettlement violates federal law and inhibits their ability to practice their faith.

HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service filed the suit on Thursday (Nov. 21) challenging an executive order signed by Donald Trump in September stating that the federal government should resettle refugees “only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments” have consented to accept them in writing.

The complaint filed by the faith groups alleges the order violates existing law that leaves decision-making power about where to place refugees with the federal government and does not allow state and local governments veto power. The complaint also points to problematic ambiguities in the order, saying it doesn’t clarify which local authorities would need to sign off to allow refugees in their area and that it could inhibit the reunification of refugee families.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call this week, HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield called the order — which is entitled “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement — “a lie.”

“This (order) is not about enhancing state and local involvement in resettlement,” said Hetfield, “as the only new option it gives to states and localities is to end their involvement in refugee resettlement.”

Hetfield, whose group is Jewish, added that the order has “chilling historic parallels” because it allows states and localities to “have a policy of blanket discrimination against people based on their legal immigration status as refugees.”

He said the order reminded him of the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Europe.

Erol Kekic, senior vice president of the Immigration and Refugee Program at CWS, said the order would prevent local religious groups “from fulfilling their faith calling and missions to ‘welcome the stranger’” — a reference to a scriptural call to welcome others that appears multiple times in the Christian and Hebrew Bible.

Kekic was echoed by Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of LIRS, who called the order “cruel and shortsighted” and insisted that Jesus Christ was also a refugee.

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Source: Religion News Service