Over the days since the attacks in Beirut and Paris, WRDA has gotten a lot of questions, and our Executive Director has spoken with many members of the press. So, we thought it might be helpful to the readers of our monthly newsletter to see how Emily is responding to some of the questions many people have in light of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris and the announcement on Monday by Illinois Governor Rauner seeking to bar Syrian refugees from Illinois.
Is WRDA still resettling refugees after Governor Rauner's announcement?
Yes. It is not yet clear if any governor can seek to bar individuals legally admitted to the U.S. by the federal government from their state. I have spoken with people at the U.S. Department of State who will be advising refugee resettlement organizations like World Relief, but the situation is not yet clear. But even while the resettlement of Syrian refugees is debated, there are refugees from many other parts of the world who are arriving and who we are serving in community with many local churches and volunteers. We are committed to welcoming and serving because that is part of our Christian mission, and we believe that our communities will continue to be welcoming places as they have been for over 35 years.
Do you believe the resettlement program is safe?
Yes, I do. The process of screening refugees prior to entrance into the U.S. is the most rigorous of any process that exists for a foreign national to enter the country. It is more detailed and thorough than tourist visas, student visas and work visas. The process has been very effective and has been refined over the many years since the Refugee Act started in 1980, and especially as conditions in our world have changed. It has been proven successful in protecting the American people. Since 9/11 nearly 800,000 refugees have been admitted. None have committed terrorist acts, though 3 people were detained and questioned, but they did not do any harm. The process works. I am not afraid.
If things like the attacks in Paris can happen in Europe, why do you not think they can happen here?
Like France we are vulnerable to what our own citizens do, and it does appear that the perpetrators of these attacks are mostly, if not all, European Union citizens. But, beyond that, comparing the migrant situation in Europe to refugees in the U.S. is comparing two very different things. Migrants enter Europe directly from conflict zones, and they are, by and large, people seeking asylum - like those who enter other neighboring countries from other world conflicts (Burundi, Chad, Nepal and Malaysia are some examples). These migrants may have been in their home country just days before entering Europe. And, while they may receive refugee status at some point, they are just starting on a process of having their claims verified. In contrast, refugees admitted to the U.S. have been able to prove their claim of persecution through the United Nations, been referred to the United States and undergone a multi-agency (Homeland Security, FBI, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) screening by specially trained staff. Our program is simply not like what is happening in Europe.
Isn’t ANY possible risk too much risk?
No, not for us as a Christian ministry organization or for us as Christians. Love is messy. Love may involve risk when we risk our hearts in friendship with another person. But love is our mission. We are called by Jesus to welcome and to love. We respond in love because we were first loved by Him. We are also called to “do good”, not just to those who are like us, but to all people. We cannot shut down compassion and continue to be like Jesus. We need to be showing love and working as a nation, as NGOs and as the church in all areas of dealing with the suffering that war brings. For those in conflict zones we work to improve situations and bring peace; for those displaced inside their country or in neighboring countries we provide aid and seek to make a safe place of refuge for them where they are; and for those who complete the rigorous process to enter the United States, we welcome them as our neighbors and our future fellow-citizens. We are called to follow Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” in caring for others as told in the story we call the Good Samaritan. Serving for this Samaritan was not particularly safe, it was messy, it involved some cost and some sacrifice, and it was aimed at someone not at all himself. Our risk is managed by a good program, but we must also risk to show love.
How does WRDA select refugees to be resettled in DuPage and Kane Counties?
Actually, we don’t. There are 9 national organizations that work with the US Department of State, of which World Relief is one. The focus of the Department of State is to run a humanitarian resettlement program, which means that the U.S. focuses on the most vulnerable – children, single mothers, the elderly and those facing medical challenges. About 50% of the refugees referred to the US are under age 18. Refugees are referred to the U.S. by the United Nations, screened by multiple federal agencies and then given by the Department of State to one of the agencies who will assist with the on-the-ground resettlement work. Every week representatives of the 9 organizations meet together with the Department of State and cases are distributed. In the simplest terms, WRDA is notified of cases assigned to us and we prepare to receive the family.
How many Syrians does WRDA expect to resettle?
Over recent years, WRDA has welcomed 5 families from Syria. While we anticipate about 575 refugees between now and the end of September next year, only a very small portion of those are anticipated to be from Syria. We never know exact numbers until we are assigned cases from the Department of State. Despite what people may see online, the goal of the State Department is to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees as a part of the 85,000 refugees slated to enter the U.S. by next September. I have heard rumors and false social media posts saying that 10,000 Syrians will arrive by January. This is just not true. Because of the screening process for refugees, about the only Syrians who could possibly arrive this federal year are people who are already in the screening processes, and who have been already working through the process for months or years.
How can I or my church help?
Learn more. Fear is often the result of misinformation and the more we can spread facts and truth, the more we can help combat fear. I and others at WRDA would be happy to talk with any churches or members of our community to give more information and to help build understanding that reduces fear. We want to encourage looking to scripture and the character of God as our guide for our actions, not our political situation.
Pray. This is not a platitude, this is a plea for a genuine seeking of God’s favor on our world, strength for us in our task of loving others, peace in areas where chaos reigns, and for power in His church to be the salt and light this world desperately needs. If you need some ideas for prayer, we have our prayer guide on our website that gives 7 days of focus to how pray for refugees.
Act. I know that refugees who are already in our community are afraid as they hear the negative backlash against “refugees.” They need to know that they are welcome in our communities. Please be a part of an active welcome – which means meeting refugees, helping meet their needs here and being a friend they can count on. We have a lot of ways to get involved, including #GivingTuesday in just a couple of weeks. Others are listed here: (get involved page)
Is there anything else that you think people reading the WRDA newsletter should know?
Serving and loving people in our broken and frightening world is hard. I do not take lightly the events taking place nor the responsibility WRDA assumes as a small part of the U.S. Resettlement Program, but I and the team here seek to serve and love as we have been loved and to provide opportunity for a new start to some of the millions of refugees, who are themselves victims of terrorism, violence, war and horrible atrocities. We continue to be grateful for those who serve with and alongside of us and the immigrants of our community. I’ve been holding on to the verse in 2 Timothy as this week has unfolded, where the apostle Paul reminds the young Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.” I hope that spirit will continue to lead us.