Thursday, in a veto-proof 289-137 vote, the U. S. House of Representatives approved a measure which would significantly stall the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country. The billed passed with all but two Republicans approving; 47 Democrats joined with the majority.
According to an Associated Press report picked up by the WNDU website, the measure would effectively prohibit new refugees from Syria and Iraq from reaching the United States for months, or even years. Democrats in the Senate are vowing to block the bill, and are expected to draft their own version which would address security issues with the visa program, rather than further restrict the refugee program. According to the South Bend Tribune, Republican Indiana Senator Dan Coats favors the House bill, while Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly was noncommittal, but was said to be studying the issue.
Yesterday, twenty-six Republican governors, including Indiana’s Mike Pence, wrote President Obama asking him to “suspend all plans to resettle additional Syrian refugees,” citing “gaps” in the security measures already in place. In contrast, 62 mayors have signed a letter to Congress asking them not to restrict refugees beyond the vetting process already in place. The mayors included Indiana Democrats Tom Henry of Fort Wayne, Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, and Pete Buttigieg of South Bend.
Americans remain deeply divided on the issue. largely along partly lines. An NBC News/SurveyMonkey online poll shows 56% of Americans oppose allowing more refugees into the country. However, over 80% of Republicans polled where in opposition, while 65% of Democrats agreed with President Obama’s current relocation program. Independents oppose admitting refugees by a 59-40% margin.
Ironically, many evangelical Christians, a core base of the Republican party, have been coming out against the more restricted policies advocated by the vast majority of the GOP leadership. In an article on Politico, World Relief vice president Jenny Yang is quoted as saying the move to block refugees “does not reflect what we’ve been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country. Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris … doesn’t reflect who refugees are.”
Some Christians are maintaining by taking the more restrictive path we are following Jesus’ teaching to be “shrewd as snakes.” [Matthew 10:16 NIV] However, could it be they are hiding behind this teaching out of fear? The entire verse talks about Jesus sending out his disciples “like sheep among wolves.” He is not asking them to cower in their homes and erect fences to keep out the wolves. (See Keri Wyatt Kent’s “Wise as serpents, harmless as doves?”)
Jesus does not call us to fear; he calls us to compassion and love. Compassion is a defining trait of the true follower of Christ:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:34-40 NIV