Thursday, November 26, 2015

Once We Were Strangers

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:17-19

If you listen to the politicians’ talk about the threat of Syrian refugees flooding into our cities and towns, you would think that they would be arriving by the boatload or planeload. That is not the case. They would arrive in the same way that refugees have been arriving for decades: family by family. One at a time. And then each family would be adopted by a community group (often churches) to be settled into their new home.

Under the current process, Syrian refugees, like all other refugees, must pass through an extensive process of multiple interviews and security checks before they can be admitted to the United States. The process may take more than two years and families are not typically admitted until the final stages.

In a New York Times article published last week, Haeyoun Park and Larry Buchanan outlined the present practice. This is a summary of the current protocol:

1. Registration with the United Nations.
2. Interview with the United Nations.
3. Refugee status granted by the United Nations.
4. Referral for resettlement in the United States.
5. Interview with State Department contract employees.
6. First background check.
7. Second background check for some refugees.
8. A third background check for those deemed at risk for criminal or terrorist actions.
9. Fingerprint screening with photo.
10. Second fingerprint screening.
11. Third fingerprint screening.
12. Case reviewed at United States immigration headquarters.
13. Some cases referred for additional review.
14. Extensive in-person interview with Homeland Security Officer.
15. Homeland Security approval is required.
16. Screening for contagious diseases.
17. Cultural orientation classes.
18. Match with an American resettlement agency (like Church World Service).
19. Multi-agency security check before leaving for the United States.
20. Final security check at an American airport.

The process is redundant, and it is intentionally redundant to make certain that those finally accepted for resettlement qualify as refugees, can be effectively integrated into a community, and do not pose a security threat. Security checks performed at the beginning of the process are repeated near the end to make sure that new information or concerns have not surfaced during the intervening months and years.

If the House bill passed last week were to become law, then the certification process in step fifteen would be expanded to require that the Director of the FBI, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence would each have to confirm that each individual applicant did not pose a threat. In other words, each of those Directors would have to personally review each application and personally guarantee the determination. Since that is a virtual impossibility, the net effect of the House bill would be to make it impossible to resettle any Syrian refugees in the United States.

At a time when we are confronting a world-wide refugee problem greater than anything we have faced since the Second World War, Christians in the United States should be advocating for a more extensive resettlement program. We should be doing more, not less. We should not ignore possible security risks, but we should remember that we were once refugees and that we are called to welcome the stranger.

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