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Faith leaders denounce Trump proclamation denying asylum outside border crossings

Members of a U.S.-bound migrant caravan stand on a road after federal police briefly blocked their way outside the town of Arriaga, Mexico, on Oct. 27, 2018. Hundreds of Mexican federal officers carrying plastic shields had blocked the caravan from advancing toward the United States after several thousand of the migrants turned down the chance to apply for refugee status and obtain a Mexican offer of benefits. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

(RNS) — President Trump signed a proclamation Friday (Nov. 9) barring anyone who enters the United States outside of official border crossings from applying for asylum in the country.

Trump hinted at such plans before the midterms, while discussing a caravan of would-be asylum seekers traveling through Central America toward the United States. Since the late 1960s, the U.S. has allowed people fleeing persecution in their home countries to apply for sanctuary anywhere in the U.S., not just at official ports of entry.

Religious support for the proclamation did not immediately fill inboxes and social media timelines.

Opposition started even before the rules were made official.

Earlier this week, 715 leaders and organizations from many different religious traditions signed onto a letter delivered to Congress opposing the president’s plans, affirming the right to seek asylum and expressing “unequivocal support for the caravan of people seeking protection from violence in Central America.”

Signers included two of the six faith-based agencies contracted with the U.S. government to resettle refugees: Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. They also included the Franciscan Action Network, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers), the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, United Sikhs and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

Last week, the Evangelical Immigration Table also published a letter encouraging churches to “respond with Christ-like love to the vulnerable families and individuals who form this caravan.” It urged the U.S. government to “respect and enforce our laws” allowing people to apply for asylum, though it acknowledged not all who apply may qualify for that status.

The evangelical Christian group includes World Relief, another faith-based refugee resettlement agency; the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Korean Churches for Community Development/Faith and Community Empowerment; the National Association of Evangelicals; and the Wesleyan Church.

Here are several more responses from religious leaders and organizations.

Church World Service

CWS, which had organized the letter to Congress earlier this week, also issued a statement Friday denouncing the Trump administration’s asylum ban as “cruel, unnecessary, and illegal.”

“As our government abandons these families at their time of greatest need, CWS and people of faith across our nation will not desert them. We will continue to provide support and resources for migrant families on both sides of the border, while advocating for a swift reversal of these dangerous policies.”

Melanie Nezer, senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS

“Many of the men, women, and children arriving at our Southern border are fleeing unimaginable violence. The U.S. has the capacity and a moral obligation to consider the claims of those arriving at our border. The U.S. has been processing asylum claims for decades. These individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and should have their claims heard.”

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief

“For decades, World Relief has partnered with local churches to assist persecuted people in rebuilding their lives in the United States. We stand ready to do so now, and are deeply troubled by the news that our government may disregard our laws and restrict the opportunity to request asylum.”

Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

“Our faith teaches us to love our neighbor, and our common values inspire us to open our doors to those seeking refuge. As long as violence and repression persist in Honduras and other countries, people will continue to flee to safety. Our call is to welcome them and treat them with respect and dignity once they arrive.”

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates

“Despite what President Trump claims, this is neither about national security nor resources. Just as with the Muslim Ban, this is about an ongoing attack on immigrants and communities of color. The asylum ban cruelly and illegally closes our nation’s doors to those in need for no factual reason. Our country has national and international legal obligations to provide refuge to those most in need. No President — not even Trump — can ignore legal asylum obligations on a whim or by executive fiat.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Pesner released a statement in late October on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the wider Reform Movement, responding to the plans Trump then was considering. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism shared his statement again after those plans were made official, calling the denial of asylum seekers “a grave moral failing.”

“From our earliest days as a people fleeing biblical Egypt, we know what it means to search for safety and security. Many of those who are currently traveling through Central America and Mexico with the goal of reaching the U.S. are fleeing devastating economic, social, and political circumstances. They need compassion and humanitarian aid. Within that group there may also be individuals whose circumstances are such that they meet the international standards required to be granted asylum; they must be allowed to make their case.”

The Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life

“President Trump’s new executive order is a violation of national and international law. More importantly, it is a violation of many faith traditions, which instruct us to welcome the stranger and defend the vulnerable. To deny children and families seeking safety a fair chance for security is sin. As a nation we have a moral responsibility to protect those in fear of their life. As a pastor, I call on the Trump administration to repent and reverse this wicked decision.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

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