Valuing the sanctity of life means openness to refugees



Tangled Figures, a preparatory drawing for Pablo Picasso’s Guernica

Everyday, I pass by a small community church with its automated sign close to the road. The sign reads, in bright red letters and all caps: ALL LIVES ARE SACRED!

The church is about halfway to town, and it’s got a safe, easy spot to slow down and pull over, so this is where I stop if I need to send a text or finish a phone call before I hit one of those dead, cell service spots. This week, with the Muslim travel ban,* I’ve been thinking a lot about the words “all lives” on the church’s sign.

It is hard to get into the United States. Our president talks a lot about extreme vetting, yet he has never defined what, exactly, he means. The fact is our vetting is already extreme. Refugees fleeing war and persecution in their home countries face a rigorous and exhaustive screening process, a process that can take from 18-24 months.

Imagine you are desperately trying to save your family—your newborn, your teenagers, your elderly parents—from certain death and having to wait a year and a half or two to clear all of the investigations and paperwork. But you are willing because your lives depend on it. You do everything that is asked of you. You wait. You hope. You sell everything. You pray. And though you pass every test you’ve been given, the U.S. suddenly invokes an inexplicable, emergency ban telling you that your family are unwanted, unwelcome, and feared.

How devastating to learn that, while church signs in America scream “All lives are sacred!” in big red letters, they are not talking about your life.

The president remains emphatic this new ban is meant to keep us safe. America first! Yet virtually all of our recent attacks have come from homegrown American terrorists.

The Orlando shooter was born in New York. Dylan Roof was a white supremacist born in South Carolina. The Aurora, Colorado theatre shooter was born in San Diego. Even the Boston marathon bombers were from Chechnya (not on the travel ban list).

According to the Cato Institute, in the last 37 years no refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has committed a major terror attack in the United States.

So just how does the president’s ban make us safer?

Last weekend, the president’s poorly implemented ban wreaked havoc around this country and the world. Thousands of lives were affected, sending internationally traveling families into panic, uncertainly, and confusion. Two stories specifically have stuck with me.

One young man waited all day at the Los Angeles airport for the release of his 80 year old Iranian grandmother. She’d already traveled 20 hours, and was then locked in a small room with other detainees for nine hours. She does not speak English. She had no idea what was happening. She was, rightly, terrified. When she was finally released, the young man found out she’d had no food and had been provided only eight ounces of water.

Despite completing all of the required paperwork, an Iranian couple with a four month-old baby scheduled for heart surgery was denied entry into the U.S. The family was already in transit with their sick child, and found out during their layover in Dubai that they were no longer welcome in the United States. They had no choice but to return to Iran.

We often hear Americans make simplistic statements about foreigners, particularly about Middle Easterners. “They hate us for our freedom,” they say. Based on stories like the ones above, I’d argue we don’t give ourselves enough credit. How would you feel if your 80 year-old grandmother were treated this way? Imagine your very sick four month-old baby being denied, completely without reason, the medical care you’ve been promised?

This morning I drove to town, and though I did not need to make a call or send a text, I pulled into the safe spot by the church, stared at the big red letters, and said a prayer.

Because for all our big, blustering talk about our Christian values and “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others” and signs blaring, “All lives are sacred!” we can be excruciatingly cruel. We are failing, as the president would say, bigly.


* No matter what you choose to call the ban, it’s a Muslim ban. I mean, you can call a goat anything you want, but it’s still a goat.


10 thoughts on “Valuing the sanctity of life means openness to refugees

  1. donnaeve

    Teri, you know it’s not easy for me to weigh in, but just a couple tiny points…there are approximately 49-51 Muslim countries in the world. (it fluctuates depending on where there’s a majority of 50% or greater) Those countries are not part of the ban. As well there are Christians along with other faiths in the ones that are under this ban – but, they can’t come either – not right now. I don’t like the way it was done, but now it’s in place, I’ll wait and see what it gets us – safer? Or not. Like you said, the homegrown terrorism will still crop up. Last, and this is just a nit. I thought he was saying “bigly” too – and I had wished for quite some time someone would tell him “that’s not a word.” Except, I learned he was saying “big league,” not bigly. For what it’s worth.

    I enjoy reading all of your stuff!

    1. Johnny

      Of course you chose ‘bigly’ on purpose… Never let the truth stand in the way of making your point. There are dozens of terrorist attacks by immigrants from these nations, despite Cato’s denial. Even our enemy Assad says that there are known terrorists hiding among the refugees, as confirmed by events in France, Belgium and Germany. Many Muslim nations also refuse immigrant entry from these countries. But, as a dedicated misandrist, you have no choice but to attack a man in a position of power and authority, especially if he holds the highest office in the country and defeated a Woman to claim it. AP: All told, Kurzman said, 23 percent of Muslim Americans involved with extremist plots since Sept. 11 had family backgrounds from the seven countries. In November, a Somali refugee was involved in an attack at Ohio State University in which he ran his car into a group of people and then tried to attack with a knife. Omar Faraj Saeed Al Hardan, an Iraqi refugee living in Texas, pled guilty in October to a plot to blow up Houston-area malls on behalf of the Islamic State group, according to CBS News.

      And while the “Bowling Green massacre” comment from Kellyanne Conway got plenty of derision from the mainstream media, there was the very inconvenient fact that she was referring to a real case — two Iraqi refugees arrested in the Kentucky city back in 2011 for Al Qaeda ties. Those arrests were responsible, in part, for a temporary pause in the Iraqi refugee program by the Obama administration.
      Trump didn’t select seven “Muslim-majority” countries. US President Barack Obama’s administration selected these seven Muslim-majority countries.

      The Department of Homeland Security targeted these seven countries over the last years as countries of concern. In February 2016 “The Department of Homeland Security today announced that it is continuing its implementation of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 with the addition of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen as three countries of concern, limiting Visa Waiver Program travel for certain individuals who have traveled to these countries.” It noted “the three additional countries designated today join Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria as countries subject to restrictions for Visa Waiver Program travel for certain individuals.” It was the US policy under Obama to restrict and target people “who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited government/military exceptions).” This was text of the US Customs and Border Protection in 2015 relating to “the Visa Waiver Program and Terrorist Travel Protection Act of 2015“. And the media knew this back in May 2016 when some civil rights groups complained about it. “These restrictions have provoked an outcry from the Iranian-American community, as well as Arab-American and civil-liberties groups, who say the restrictions on dual nationals and certain travelers are discriminatory and could be imposed against American dual nationals.”

      It was signed into law on December 18, 2015, as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of FY2016.

  2. coffeebean2017

    So many sad stories. These refugees for argument sake are probably good people. But the fact is we don’t know them. You make such a good argument for letting them in but I want to ask you a couple of questions. How many homeless Americans have you picked up, taken to your home a shown hospitality to? I’m not talking about handing money or some food out the window to. You’re so concerned for these poor souls why not take that homeless man/woman to your home and show compassion. Let him/her use the shower maybe even make the spare room up for them to stay the night? You’re so loving and compassionate I don’t think this is an unreasonable request. How many refugees you have in your neighborhood now? It’s real simple for people to try to appear to take a high road when the situation doesn’t affect them at all. Just think about it.

  3. Catherine

    Well stated. America really messed up here. The ban is indeed a Muslim ban. Notice he didn’t put Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other countries where his money and businesses are in on the list.

  4. tdapra

    Coffeebean2017, we don’t have to be willing to bring all the homeless people we see on the street into our homes to support a compassionate refugee policy. The point is that collectively, through federal, stare, and local governments, plus social service agencies, churches and individual volunteers, we can create a system that works much better than we could do on our own. It’s also much safer! No individual can do this alone.

  5. nationofnope

    I agree that discrimination and bigotry should be an anathema to all. I’m appalled by the action and do not condone nor support anything this administration has done. However, it is not discriminatory to question ideas. I am not less of a human than a Muslim. I resent being referred to as an infidel. I reject the notion that religious jurisprudence should supersede nor operate in conjunction with secular legal systems and governance. It disturbs me that deceit and lying in defense of a religion is sanctioned by doctrine. Consider the role of women in all Muslim societies. The barbarism exhibited by the followers of Islam is not a recent phenomenon. The belief in jihad, martyrdom and paradise are a death cocktail employed by jihadist daily. Islam has been at war with itself from it’s beginning. Muslims who would seek to reinterpret doctrine are in a untenable position and potential mortal danger. How does one go about correcting the perfect word of god? It is less than helpful to these courageous people to deny the causal link. So here we are do largely to a failure of liberal society to recognize and act on any divisive and dangerous beliefs.

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