On February 7, 2017, the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia joined a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU intended to stop the Executive Order signed by President Trump that would ban travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. With the new travel ban set to go into effect on March 16, the ACLU has filed an amendment of the initial complaint and added additional plaintiffs to the suit, including two unnamed refugees from Somalia and Eritrea whose plans to be reunited with their families are now in jeopardy, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington (CAIR-WA). While this new Executive Order has been carefully rewritten to avoid specifically mentioning Islam, the initial intent to discriminate against refugees due to their religious faith and country of origin remains.
After the initial Executive Order was put into effect, nearly two dozen refugee families who had already been cleared for travel and who the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO) had planned to receive and resettle were prevented from entering the United States. The Revised Executive Order, like its previous incarnation, prevents us from fulfilling one of our core ministries, that of welcoming the stranger. With the 120-day ban on refugees and the eventual reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the country, the RRO will face a dramatic decrease in funding which will significantly harm its ability to fulfill its mission. In the past, Executive Orders by other administrations to slowed down refugee resettlement also provided a base level of funding for refugee resettlement operations around the country. Neither the original travel ban, nor the revised order provide this basic funding which means that many such centers will have their ability to resettle refugees forever diminished.
Likewise, the ban on refugee places this community we are called to serve in even greater danger. We maintain that the vetting process is being used as an excuse for this ban. The administration seems to insinuate that there is no vetting going on at all, or that it is never reviewed. Neither is true. The vetting process is thorough, involves six US agencies, and is the most robust, by far, of any other country. Additionally, this process is under constant review and revision no matter what administration is in power. We see no justification to halt this process which has served us well. Many refugees have given up to two years of their life to working through the vetting process. Our government should be able to simultaneously review and revise the vetting process while allowing those who have been subject to it to continue to make their way to their new lives.
As Episcopal Bishop of Olympia Greg Rickel said in an interview with The Development Set, “Joining a lawsuit is not something I take on lightly, but I just had to do it. I believe the Gospel mandates us to help refugees, whether they’re Christian or not. I don’t join lawsuits to make a point. The people we’re ministering to are being harmed. It’s a peaceful way to protest.”