By Jessica Brodie
Two dozen United Methodists were among the 100 South Carolinian faith leaders who spent World Refugee Day calling for a halt to what they deemed “anti-asylum, anti-family, anti-refugee legislation.”
The pastors and lay leaders sent a letter to Sen. Lindsey Graham June 20 urging compassion for refugees and asylum seekers and asking him to stop his support for the so-called Secure and Protect Act of 2019 (S.1494), which Graham has sponsored and introduced in the U.S. Senate. As of press time, the bill is being considered by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Faith leaders said the bill goes against sacred biblical texts commanding loving treatment of immigrants and would ultimately hurt refugees and asylum seekers, including children and victims of human trafficking.
“As faith communities, we are opposed to any proposal that bans asylum seekers or limits access to protection,” the letter reads in part. “The bill would endanger immigrant children by undermining current standards for children in detention, dismantling protections for unaccompanied children, and returning children to harm, and it would erode the U.S. asylum system and make it harder for asylum seekers to seek protection.”
The Emily Scales Sutton, of Bethel United Methodist Church, in Rock Hill, helped promote the letter, saying, “We were outraged when we heard that Senator Graham wanted to mark up this bill on World Refugee Day. Although the vote has been delayed, the U.S. Senate should not be adding cuts to the refugee program that has already been slashed by 75 percent under this administration. At a time when there are more refugees in the world than any time in history, we have a moral obligation to protect and restore the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Congressional reform should be based on compassion for vulnerable populations who need protection, rather than pitting asylum seekers against refugees.”
In addition to Sutton, other United Methodist pastors who signed the letter include the Revs. Richard Reams, Sandra King, Len Ripley, Sherry Brady, Susan Maddox, Becky Forrest, Carly Wicklund, Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, Jim Morgan, Jo Anna Fallaw, Marguerite Shepard, Philip Chandler, Frances Connell, Weston Pendergrass, Stephen Gaither and Robin Dease. Laity in leadership roles from many UMC churches across South Carolina, plus pastors and lay leaders from many other denominations, including Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal, also signed the letter.
The complete letter and list of signatories is at http://bit.ly/SC100ForRefugees.
The faith leaders said the bill would have the following hurtful impacts:
- Ban certain asylum seekers and eliminate access to safety and protection for thousands of people, including mothers, fathers, and children fleeing extreme violence;
• Unlawfully curtail access to asylum for those who entered the United States between ports of entry;
• Weaken existing anti-trafficking laws and return children, trafficking victims and asylum seekers back to harm and those who wish to exploit them;
• Reduce refugee admissions by counting certain asylum cases against annual refugee admissions goal;
- Expand family detention, giving sole discretion to the secretary of Homeland Security to determine detention-related standards for children, prohibit states from requiring family detention centers to be licensed by the state;
• Eliminate the long-standing standard that children should not be detained for longer than 20 days and increasing the length of child detention to 100 days;
- And more.
“We believe that you understand the moral and faithful approach that recognizes the gifts, contributions and struggles of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable families and individuals,” the letter to Graham concludes. “We ask you to stop S.1494 and instead to support legislation that would create compassionate, just and humane immigration and refugee resettlement systems that upholds our nation’s values to provide protection for those fleeing violence and persecution.”