CRS president: Denying entry to refugees won’t make U.S. safer

| Barb Fraze and Dennis Sadowski | January 27, 2017 | 3 Comments

A U.S. Border Patrol agent opens a gate on the fence along the Mexico border to allow vehicles pass Jan. 17 in El Paso, Texas. While U.S. elected officials have an obligation to protect the security of Americans, denying entry to desperate refugees will not make the country safer, said the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. CNS photo/Tomas Bravo, Reuters

While U.S. elected officials have an obligation to protect the security of Americans, denying entry to desperate refugees will not make the country safer, said the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.

Sean Callahan, head of CRS, said, “Welcoming those in need is part of America’s DNA.”

“CRS welcomes measures that will make our country safer, but (such measures) shouldn’t jeopardize the safety of those fleeing violence (and) should not add appreciable delay nor entail unjust discrimination,” he said in a statement released Jan. 26.

Callahan was anticipating a presidential memorandum on national security, a draft of which calls for suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. The suspension would allow officials at the state and homeland security departments to review the application and decision-making process and determine the need for additional procedures to ensure that refugees approved for admission do not pose a threat to the U.S.

Once the refugee admissions process resumes, refugee claims would be reviewed and those fleeing religious persecution would be prioritized as long as they fled a nation where their religion is in the minority, according to the draft, which President Donald Trump had not signed by Jan. 26.

It also calls for an immediate 30-day suspension of entry into the U.S. of individuals from countries designated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“People seeking refuge in the United States and elsewhere are victims — often of the same terrorists from whom we must protect ourselves,” Callahan said, noting that the U.S. was founded as a nation of immigrants.

“As a Catholic agency founded on the social and moral teachings of the church, we must act based on our values and echo the Holy Father, who said ‘there must be no family without a home, no refugee without a welcome, no person without dignity,'” Callahan said, quoting Pope Francis.

“This is not just a Catholic message; this is an American message. It is the message we should be sending to those in need around the world,” he said.

“Protecting America means protecting the moral values embedded in our foundation. These values make our nation great,” he said.

Some people in the United States and Europe have expressed concerns that people emigrating from majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa were infiltrating the West as terrorists posing as migrants. The draft executive memorandum, “Protecting the National From Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” was designed to address that fear.

The draft memorandum said that with the end of refugee processing for Syrians, the state and defense departments must produce a plan within 90 days to provide safe areas in Syria and the surrounding region where Syrian nationals can await resettlement.

The U.S. State Department Refugee Processing Center reported that, for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2016, more than 12,587 Syrians were received for asylum in the United States. It said 9,880 Iraqis were received. The two combined were 27 percent of refugees admitted to the United States last year.

Bill O’Keefe, CRS vice president for government relations and advocacy, spoke to CNS Jan. 25, shortly after his return from a mid-January visit to northern Iraq.

“I met families who, the night before, had walked through mine fields to escape ISIS (Islamic State),” he told CNS. “They had gotten to the limits of their means and fled when their young daughters were at an age to be at risk of seizure as sex slaves by ISIS. These are the kinds of people who are fleeing, and they need our help. They are fleeing the people we are afraid of; they are not the people we are afraid of.”

He said profiling applied to Muslims today could be applied to Catholics tomorrow.

“Every religion has extremists,” O’Keefe said. “We don’t want to prevent innocent people from coming because there are extremists. That’s why we have a vetting system in place.”

O’Keefe said it currently takes 18-24 months to vet a refugee, “and the vetting is already extreme. It can’t get more extreme. And the people who are fleeing the worst kind of violence in Syria, Iraq and other countries deserve safe haven as human beings, and we can provide that for the most vulnerable of them.”

In a November 2015 interview with Catholic News Service, Jane E. Bloom, head of U.S. office of the International Catholic Migration Commission, told CNS refugees initially are selected for resettlement by the staff of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The Catholic migration commission is one of the worldwide agencies working with the U.N. refugee agency in processing people chosen for resettlement.

Before the commission vets Syrians, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security conducts its own screening, Bloom said. Only then can ICMC staff members begin vetting under State Department rules, collecting biographical and family information, and learning why a family fled their home in the first place, she explained.

“When it comes to vetting, refugees — and in particular Syrian refugees — are the most vetted I have come to work with in the last 30 years,” Bloom told CNS.


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  • Charles C.

    O’Keefe says that our vetting procedure cannot possibly be improved, “It can’t get more extreme.” Yet, the CIA and FBI have described the vetting as insufficient and plagued with gaps and failures.

    Of course, keeping people out will keep Americans safer, it is silly to suggest otherwise. The only questions are, how much safer and at what cost? If 10,000 Syrians (for example) are admitted to the country, there will be at least one terrorist in the group who will make Americans less safe.

    Now, the discussion over how many terrorist acts would be prevented, and at what cost, is worth having, but O’Keefe’s blanket statements make her sound less than serious.

    • Nancy


      It seems people are blinded by their ideology.

      They do not hear the vetting process could not be conducted thoroughly on the mass migration of persons this year from the Middle East, Africa and South America. It seems they cannot conceive of anyone claiming refugee status when they are not actually refugees. They fail to accept the latest attacker in France was on a Travel Visa to that country.

      Logic has been replaced by emotional subjectivity.

      • Charles C.

        Here’s some more on “extreme vetting.”

        “As a recently retired 25-year veteran of the U.S. Department of State who served almost eight years as a refugee coordinator throughout the Middle East, Africa, Russia and Cuba, I have seen first-hand the abuses and fraud that permeate the refugee program and know about the entrenched interests that fight every effort to implement much-needed reform.

        “Despite claims of enhanced vetting, the reality is that it is virtually impossible to vet an individual who has no type of an official record, particularly in countries compromised by terrorism. U.S. immigration officials simply rely on the person’s often rehearsed and fabricated ‘testimony.’ I have personally seen this on hundreds of occasions.

        “I saw the exploitations, inconsistencies and security lapses in the program, and I advocated strongly for change. Nonetheless, during the past decade and specifically under the Obama administration, the Refugee Admissions Program continued to expand blindly, seemingly without concern for security or whether it served the best interests of its own citizens.”
        (Letter from Mary Doetsch in the Chicago Tribune and other sites.)

        I’m all for discussing aid to refugees and other persons in extreme circumstances, but as long as we keep getting false or misleading statements from Catholic Relief Services and similar groups, we will make no progress.