Those of you who know me know that I do everything in my power to equip and inspire social entrepreneurs around the world. I believe we’ve done an amazing job at that here at Social Change Nation but I have fallen short as a leader when it comes to taking a stand on the justice issues that matter so deeply for us. I’m here first to apologize for that and secondly to tell you that my silence ends today. We are Social Change Nation and we’re about changing business for good. That means speaking truth to power, stepping on some toes and ruffling some feathers. I’m ready to do what needs to be done to lead the charge for social entrepreneurship. This article marks the first of many where I will actively do that.
What has inspired me to write this? Many things, but the spark that really lit the fire was President Donald Trump’s recent ban on refugees entering the U.S. So, I’m going to unpack this ban and show you why it is unnecessary, unjust and unchristian. I back everything I say with verifiable fact and easily trackable sources. Fair warning that this is a long but very important read. Here goes…
Any issue like this must be viewed through two lenses: safety and justice. We must be vigilant in our duty to keep our citizens safe while giving equal weight to pursuing justice for those who are oppressed. So, I’ll weigh every statement I make below through the lenses of safety AND justice.
First, what credibility do I have to write on this? I’ve been volunteering with refugees for a decade now. I was jolted into action in 2006 because I was disgusted by the fact that our troops serving in Iraq were being denied the opportunity to save the brave Iraqis who had served them as translators and guides. These Iraqis walked into some of the most horrific situations imaginable and saved the lives of countless American soldiers. Their thanks? They and their families were systematically slaughtered by Al-Qaeda and Shia militias for ‘serving the enemy’.
I saw it as a grave injustice that we weren’t helping those Iraqis who had sacrificed so much. Our troops agreed. Soldiers of all ranks, even generals, were demanding that these Iraqis be protected for their service. In response, a special category of Visa was created to bring these persecuted Iraqis into the U.S.
But it all fell so woefully short…despite thousands of Visas being made available, relatively few Iraqi translators made it to America because our government failed in its duty to process their cases. Sadly, many Iraqi translators with clear records of service to our troops and recommendations from military leaders were murdered while waiting for a painfully slow visa process. (you can check my sources on this here: this article or this one about 60 interpreters that were tortured and killed by Shia militias or just search ‘Iraqi translators murdered’)
This national shame motivated me to continue working with the Kurdish (Iraqi) refugee populations in the U.S. from 2010-present. In that work, I’ve seen firsthand both the incredible beauty and awful shortcomings of our refugee program. It is from that perspective that I’ll now take on some of the most troubling issues I see with Trump’s ban:
What does my faith say? I’m Catholic. So, every issue of justice for me is first viewed through that lense. But whether you’re Catholic or not, I think you’ll find an unwavering and relatable statement on the matter from my church:
Countries must prioritize safety of citizens first BUT this must also be balanced with justice. My church has clearly stated that an order that completely bans refugee admissions from all countries (as Trump’s does) is morally, spiritually and ethically wrong.
Here are my sources on that:
-U.S. Council of Bishops Statement on Syria (note that among other policies they are calling for 100,000 refugees to be resettled into the U.S.)
-Cardinals and Archbishops condemn Trump’s ban (Catholic News Service)
-Then there’s this statement from the ENTIRE council of U.S. Bishops. Here’s a snippet from that: “We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.”
-And this from the Catechism of the Catholic church which details our obligation to ‘welcome the stranger’.
But now I can hear you saying… “Sure Josh, but the Catholic Church and/or Christianity just requires us to take care of people once here, we should let policymakers decide who gets to come.”
In response, you should first note that Trump’s ban forbids ALL refugee entries from ANYWHERE for 120 days (source: text of bill from whitehouse.gov - see section 5). That means that no matter what country you are fleeing oppression from, the U.S.’s doors are closed to you for 120 days. And let’s be clear - 120 days is often the difference between LIFE and DEATH for a refugee fleeing violence. Policy or not, what possible safety reason could we have for banning refugees from ALL countries?
That is fundamentally unjust and immoral. Christians are called to pursue justice in all aspects of our lives. To accept an unjust policy because we need to “let leaders do their jobs” is absolutely wrong. If I still haven’t convinced you, I would ask you under what circumstances you WOULD challenge leaders on unjust policy? On abortion? On marriage? If you would challenge policy on those issues, then why not on refugees?
If you say ‘we must keep our country safe first’. I couldn’t agree more. But again I challenge you: what SPECIFICALLY do you feel is unsafe about our current vetting process? Consider these facts:
-The Refugee Act of 1980 set up extreme measures to vet and admit refugees. The process of entry for refugees currently takes nearly 2 years, involves multiple in person interviews, background checks and letters of support from government leaders. Refugees ALREADY face THE MOST rigorous screening of anyone entering our country.
-Approximately 4 million refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since 1948. Of those, JUST TWENTY have been found guilty of or charged with terrorism (source).
So, if you’re going to challenge me on this, I will only respond if you answer these two questions:
- What EXACT THING(S) do you think is/are broken with our current refugee admission process?
- What EXACT THING(S) would you fix?
Also, immigrants and refugees are two COMPLETELY different things. I’m perplexed by mainstream conversations today that seem to treat immigration and refugee resettlement as the same thing. They are not. An immigrant is voluntarily seeking a better life in a new country. A refugee meets a biblical definition that means they are either fleeing persecution, have a well founded fear for their life, or are otherwise part of a group being slaughtered by another group who hates them. In other words, they are being FORCED to flee.
If you say that ‘Trump’s just doing what Obama did’. I’ve seen several articles on this too and my response is - so what? Both are wrong. Both are unjust. Both turn a blind eye to suffering people. It’s true that I’m calling out Trump specifically in this article but I could also call out Obama for allowing the slaughter in Syria on his watch or Bush for utterly failing to admit Iraqi refugees who served along our military. All are wrong. We must fight injustice no matter who’s behind it.
If you say ‘we have too many problems here in the U.S., let’s focus on those’. Refugees have watched their neighbors get barrel bombs dropped on their heads, been tortured because of their devotion to Christ and/or faced any number of other atrocities. Despite our problems, we are a blessed nation. My church (and most other churches) call us to be a blessing (Source: The Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Also, our refugee program is one of the most sustainable programs we have. Refugees nearly always pay back the government for their plane ticket and the federal government also deliberately underfunds the program with the expectation that the local churches and community contribute charitably. Fine organizations such as World Relief, Catholic Charities, Jewish Vocational Services, Lutheran Social Services and others have been answering that call for decades. These non-profits raise significant private contributions to support refugees as they adapt to a new life.
If you say ‘it’s just 120 days’. That’s a lifetime for a refugee. 120 days can mean the difference between a new life or certain death for a family fleeing persecution. Unless you can CLEARLY ARTICULATE a specific thing wrong with the current process, why are you okay with this?
If you say ‘we should support our president’. I support my president too. BUT I will never blindly support a leader or a policy that does not pass the tests of safety and justice. This policy fails to deliver on both and I will continue speaking against it.
So, what am I going to do about it?
Taking a stand without taking action is meaningless in my book. I don’t want to become just another random article on Facebook that criticizes the status quo, starts arguments, and then winds up like this:
Instead, I’ll just tell you exactly what I plan to do about the ban and the conditions under which I’ll respond to criticism of this article:
- I’m going to endeavor to employ Iraqi refugees in my business. I mentioned that I’ve been involved with the Kurdish community for several years now. It’s time to put my money where my mouth is and start hiring qualified individuals from that community. Many of these Iraqis were highly skilled professionals back home so I know they would be a welcome addition to our work at Social Change Nation. I need to grow Social Change Nation to do this and I want all of you in this community to hold me accountable here.
- I will not engage criticism of this article on Facebook or any other outlet unless it does all of these things: -Tells me SPECIFICALLY what you think is broken with current refugee admissions-Tells me PRECISELY what you would change AND the result you’d expect from that-Tells me EXACTLY how you plan to pursue justice for the oppressed-If you disagree with a point I’ve made you must also DIRECTLY refute the evidence I share to back that particular claim.
- I’ll continue to fight any similar ban as strongly as they fight back.
- I’m going to call on my community to get more involved in the lives of refugees currently here.
Pursuing social justice is never an easy task and it never happens without upsetting the powers that be. I haven’t done enough rabble rousing with Social Change Nation, but don’t worry, we’ll be doing plenty of that from today forward 🙂
Stay tuned Change Nation and thanks for listening.