The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia has joined with the ACLU to file a lawsuit against the federal government in response to President Trump’s executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. While the words Muslim and Islam are never specifically mentioned in the executive order, references to ‘honor killings’ and ‘radicalization’ evoke the worst stereotypes of the Islamic faith. The addition of sections that make exceptions for religious minorities makes it clear that this is executive order is a ban on Muslims in all but name. The purpose of this lawsuit is to block President Trump’s executive order that intentionally discriminates against refugees based on their nationality and religion.
In a statement issued on the day President Trump signed the executive order, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Greg Rickel, said, “This executive order is a violation of the foundational principles of our nation. As a member of the Jesus movement, I believe the United States has a moral responsibility to receive and help resettle refugees from the more than 65 million people who have been displaced by war, violence, famine, and persecution. To turn these vulnerable people away and limit the flow of refugees into our country is to dishonor the One we serve.”
The Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO) assists in the resettlement of 190 individuals each year. Many of these refugees come from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Libya – all countries that fall under President Trump’s executive order. The RRO assists refugees by meeting families at the airport, providing cultural orientation, helping families find and furnish an apartment, and helping them find employment. The office also provides English classes, helps refugees achieve financial stability with a matched savings program, and provides loans for refugee micro-enterprises. The parishioners of St. James, Kent and Saint Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle have worked with the RRO to sponsor two families who arrived from Syria in the last year.
Since the executive order has been in place, six families (12 individuals) the RRO had been prepared to resettle were stranded in an airport somewhere outside of the United States, while 50 refugees who had been interviewed by an immigration judge and granted visas were not allowed to leave their country of origin. Three refugees entering the country from El Salvador were detained with only one allowed to enter the country. 90% of the RRO’s clients stuck outside of the country are from one of the seven countries affected by the executive order.
The executive order has created chaos in airports across the nation and exacerbated an already fraught humanitarian crisis. The administration’s policy on refugees has created an additional stress and burden on the staff and clients of our Refugee Resettlement Office. The consequences of this executive order have also been felt by members of our community, parishioners who are legal residents of the United States that have been subjected to detainment and questioning simply because they fled from one of the seven countries specified by the executive order. Although courts in Washington State and around the country have granted temporary restraining orders, the Diocese of Olympia has joined with the ACLU in this lawsuit because many of the existing class actions do not help the refugees who are stuck outside of the country.