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Letter Issued by Lutheran Community Services Chief

Below is a letter from David Duea, CEO of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, concerning refugees. It was released Tuesday. - Rachel Pritchett

Dear friends and partners in justice,

At Lutheran Community Services Northwest, we have a rich history of welcoming, resettling and meeting the critical needs of refugees. We've welcomed more than 35,000 refugees over the past 40-plus years in Washington and Oregon.

LCS Northwest remains committed to refugees, especially in light of President Donald Trump's executive order Friday concerning refugees. We will continue to welcome refugees no matter their religion or what country they come from. We're all God's children, and we support refugees who are fleeing dangerous and violent conditions.

The Executive Order is already having a direct impact on our refugee work. Our Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program (URM) in Spokane was ready to welcome a 17-year-old male, scheduled to arrive early this week. He is from Afghanistan, where his parents and sister were killed by a landmine.

The boy fled Afghanistan to Indonesia, where he has been living in a shelter. He was scheduled to fly from Jakarta to LAX Monday. Unaccompanied refugee minors usually fly with an escort. We have not heard from the escort, and the database that contains travel information has not been updated. We have no idea what to expect. This is just one example of how a story being felt around the world is impacting real, individual lives.

There are many unknowns about the immediate future of our refugee work. We have great concern for the refugees we are serving now and our employees who support them. We will do our best to make sure that they are safe and cared for.

The Executive Order signed on Friday mandates:    

  • A 120-day pause on all refugee arrivals. The order also bars entry into the United State for 90 days for any citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. It includes an indefinite stop on all Syrian refugees.
    Refugees from religious minorities who are being persecuted in their home countries will be given priority for US resettlement.
  • When resettlement restarts, the number of refugees admitted into the United States will drop from 110,000 to 50,000 for July 1, 2106 to June 30, 2017. As of this week, approximately 37,000 refugees had already been admitted.
  • There are plans to grant states and localities more authority over the placement/resettlement of refugees.
  • There will be a review of the refugee admissions (vetting) program. 

We are following the refugee situation closely, and we are standing with our brothers and sisters seeking safety from violence, persecution and the terror of extremist groups.

If you want to make a real difference for refugees in the Northwest, please make a donation to our refugee programs (HERE)

Your gifts will help us to continue supporting refugees during these uncertain times.

Thank you,

David Duea, President & CEO
Lutheran Community Services Northwest

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Bishop Eaton suggests hands off on refugee efforts

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Yesterday, we heard these words in the Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, the beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lays out a vision for life in God's realm, characterized by seeing those who are often most disregarded, including the meek, the mourning and the peacemaker, as bearers of God's blessing. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to hear this Gospel, including Jesus' call for his disciples to be carriers of God's light and hope and reconciliation to a world deeply in need of them.

In this spirit, earlier last week I communicated with the Trump administration asking that it not stop the U.S. refugee admissions program or stop resettlement from any country for any period of time. The Bible calls us to welcome the stranger and treat the sojourner as we would our own citizens. I agree with the importance of keeping our country secure as the administration stated in its executive order last Friday, but I am convinced that temporarily banning vulnerable refugees will not enhance our safety nor does it reflect our values as Christians. Instead, it will cause immediate harm by separating families, disrupting lives, and denying safety and hope to brothers and sisters who are already suffering.

Refugees being resettled in the United States have fled persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political views and/or associations. They wait for years for the chance to go home. But sometimes, there is no home for them to go back to. We know from our partners at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) that only 1 percent of all refugees are chosen for resettlement.

People of faith helped start and still sustain the refugee resettlement program in the United States following World War II. As Lutherans, many of our ancestors faced the pain of having to flee their homes and the joy of being welcomed in new communities across the United States. As we have done throughout history, millions of Lutherans across the country honor our shared biblical values as well as the best of our nation's traditions by offering refuge to those most in need. We are committed to continuing ministries of welcome that support and build communities around the country and stand firmly against any policies that result in scaling back the refugee resettlement program.

We must offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition. Christians and other religious minorities suffer persecution and rightly deserve protection, but including additional criteria based on religion could have discriminatory effects that would go against our nation's fundamental values related to freedom of religion.

I invite ELCA congregations into learning, prayer and action on behalf of those who seek refuge on our shores. The ELCA "Social Message on Immigration," AMMPARO strategy and LIRS resources are good places to start. Those who have been part of resettling refugees or have their own immigration experience have important stories to share with their communities and testimony to make. I also encourage you to consider adding your voice by calling your members of Congress to share your support for refugees and using online advocacy opportunities through current alerts at ELCA Advocacy and LIRS.

In Matthew 25:35, Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Our Lord not only commanded us to welcome the stranger, Jesus made it clear that when we welcome the stranger into our homes and our hearts - we welcome him.

God's peace,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton 
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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