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Panelists at Georgetown Examine Catholic Response to Refugee, Immigrant Crisis

March 21, 2017 – Panelists at an event sponsored by Georgetown’s Catholic Social Thought and Public Life Initiative yesterday evoked the teachings of Jesus in discussing how to respond to the current refugee and immigrant crisis.

“The eyes of faith can see Christ in the refugee,” said former Georgetown President Leo O’Donovan, S.J., now interim executive director for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, which serves refugees in more than 45 countries. 

O'Donovan made introductory remarks prior to the panel discussion.

John Carr, director of the initiative and moderator of the event, asked panelist Bishop Ricardo Ramirez to explain what the Bible says about aliens and strangers.

Welcoming Strangers

“God crossed the border when he was incarnate,” Ramirez said. “He crossed the border from divinity to humanity. He crossed the border in order to save people.”

The bishop said welcoming strangers has been and must continue to be a priority for the Catholic Church.

“We’re talking about people – human beings," Ramirez said. "These are people born with the image and likeness of God. These are people that have a dignity that must be respected. That’s the basic teaching of all the social teachings of the Church.”

No Easy Choice

The event, called Refugees and Immigrants: Welcoming the Stranger in Tough Times, also included Aden Batar, a Muslim refugee from Somalia.

“Leaving my home country was not an easy choice,” said Batar, who came to the United States in 1994 through a Kenyan refugee camp and is now director for Catholic Social Services of Salt Lake City.

“As many refugees, I was forced to flee after I lost many of my family members, including my son," Batar said. "My passion comes from that.”

He said he has spent more than 20 years working to help fellow refugees and immigrants through Catholic community services.

“I don’t think I can ever repay what I received from the community who welcomed me,” he explained.

Immigration and Security

Alfonso Aguilar, former director of the Office of Citizenship under President George W. Bush who is now president of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, also was part of the panel.

He brought up another issue surrounding the refugee and immigrant crisis.

“We do have to address the issue of security,” he said. “We are called to welcome the stranger, but the [statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)] also addressed border security.”

Aguilar said the policy on immigration under the Trump administration has been consistent with some of the actions of the Obama administration.

Support and Solidarity

USCCB policy director and panelist Ashley Feasley said that while she recognizes some elements of Obama’s immigration policies in those of the new administration, she also sees a lot of change.

“If we look at the recent enforcement actions, and in some instances raids, there were collateral individuals who were picked up, although they were not the intended target,” she said. “That instilled fear in those communities. As a church, we should be providing welcome support and solidarity where possible.”

Carr asked the panelists how the country could “move out of fear.”

“What really convinces people is the human story,” Ramirez said.

He noted that communities around the country are acting in solidarity with people living with such fear.

Finding Balance

“Sometimes I think we paint this rosy picture of the bad guys versus the good guys,” Aguilar said. “The perception is that Republicans are bad, Democrats are good. The issue of immigration is much more complex. We have to balance being a welcoming nation with the security of our territory.”

The next Catholic Social Thought and Public Life Initiative, “The Francis Factor After Four Years: Pope Francis’s Message for the U.S. will take place on March 27. The panel will include Papal Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre and former United States Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett.