“We Are a Nation of Refugees”: An Interfaith Call for Compassion and Positive Action


Note: The following statement was released this week by the Evansville Executive Interfaith Partnership–a remarkable collection of people of faith and goodwill centered in the Southwestern corner of Indiana of which I, dear reader, am a part.

An open letter to politicians and Americans everywhere: 

For most of our history America has been a safe destination for people seeking a better life.

For hundreds of years, people from all over the world have flocked to our borders to escape famine, poverty, war, political oppression, natural disasters, religious persecution, and tyranny.

We are not merely a nation of immigrants; we are a nation of refugees. America is a place of refuge, and this has become one of the most profound and important truths in our nation’s story.  

Two crises now threaten to rewrite this story — and to undermine America’s commitment to our heritage and our own best selves. Both crises have been manufactured by politicians who derive their power by dividing Americans against each other and stoking resentment against immigrants and religious minorities.

As people of faith who love our nation and its traditional values, we cannot stand by silently as America’s story is corrupted by hatred and fear.

The first crisis comes from our Southern border, where families seeking asylum have been ripped apart. Children have been removed and placed in foster homes around the country, and their parents have been told that, to be reunited with their children, they must waive their asylum requests and submit to deportation.

At the same time, the President of the United States has demanded that asylum seekers be stripped of their due-process rights. “When somebody comes in,” he wrote, “we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.”

We emphatically reject the abuses currently being perpetrated in our name. Separating children from their parents is immoral and cruel, and it causes permanent damage to children and their families.

Using children as leverage to coerce their parents into abandoning a legally valid claim for asylum is extortion worthy of the vilest tyrants. We must jealously guard the due process rights that our Constitution guarantees to everyone subject to our jurisdiction, regardless of their citizenship status, and we have a sacred responsibility to ensure that our nation remains a place of refuge.

The second crisis comes from the Supreme Court’s recent verdict narrowly upholding President Trump’s third attempt to impose a travel ban on people of the Muslim faith. Like its earlier iterations, Presidential Proclamation 9645 is a Muslim ban that attempts to mask its religious bias by including two non-Muslim countries in ways that produce no meaningful effects.

In one of these countries, Venezuela, only certain government officials are restricted from traveling to the United States. In the other, North Korea, foreign travel is sufficiently restricted at the source to make restrictions at the destination irrelevant.

Because of this proclamation, nearly 150 million Muslims in five countries are barred entry to the United States indefinitely — including citizens of Syria, whose tragic civil war has become the greatest humanitarian disaster of our generation. In issuing this ban, the President offered no evidence that our current vetting practices were not working and no evidence that immigrants or visitors from these countries pose a threat to the United States. Before announcing the ban,

President Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” — words that exactly signal his intentions and his animus towards the Muslim people.

The effects of Muslim ban go far beyond the tragedies it inflicts on asylum seekers and family members barred from visiting their relatives. It tells more than 3 million Muslims living in the United States — many of them American citizens who love their country and have sacrificed greatly to become part of it — that their religion makes them less welcome and less worthy of respect and affection. People of all faiths, traditions, and walks of life must steadfastly resist this attempt to write our friends and neighbors out of the American story.

As a community of interfaith leaders, we call upon our elected officials in both parties and all branches of government to come together to preserve the integrity of families, the sanctity of all religious beliefs, and America’s historical role as a place of refuge.

We affirm emphatically that protecting our nation is not incompatible with compassion and respect for all people. And we call upon people of goodwill everywhere to renounce bigotry, demand justice, and reclaim the nation that we love. We must all work together to Make America Good Again.

Members of the Evansville Executive Interfaith Partnership:

Dr. Michael Austin, Newburgh Ward, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Rev. Joseph Easley, United Methodist Church
Retired Rev. Kevin Fleming, First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Mitchell Gieselman, United Methodist Church, Conference Superintendent, INUMC
Rev. Dr. Tamara Gieselman, United Methodist Church, University Chaplain
Dr. Mohammad Hussain, Islamic Center of Evansville
Rabbi Gary Mazo, Temple Adath B’nai Israel
Sister Jane Michele McClure, Habitat for Humanity of Evansville
Alan McCoy, Director, Kunzang Chöling of Evansville
Karuna Pandit, Tri-State Hindu Temple
Rev. Greg Pimlott, United Methodist Clergy, Main Street UMC
Dr. Saiyid Masroor Shah, Islamic Center of Evansville


  1. Thank you for posting this! Very powerful. One of the most discouraging things is watching people change long standing traditions that made America great, in the name of making America great again. And insofar as we did not live up to those principles such as interment camps and turning Jewish refugees away during WWII, we tend to regret it. I hope this group and others like it have success in your efforts.

  2. it's a series of tubes says:

    The pro-refugee sentiment in this message is admirable. It’s unfortunate that the message is diluted by some demonstrably false political statements.

    For example, regarding vetting as considered by the Supreme Court in Trump v. Hawaii, it never hurts to RTFA. Here is the opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/17-965_h315.pdf While it’s worthwhile to read the entire opinion, the topic in question is generally covered in pp. 33-38.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you, Michael.

  4. Thank you for this.

  5. Tubes, we must not be reading the same document. The decision that you point to summarizes arguments that the government made about the reliability of governments in sharing information, and others indicating that Syria and Iran are state sponsors of terrorism and that Somalia lacks an effective central government. This is not the same as evidence that the vetting process that we have been applying to refugees from those countries are not effective. In fact, it isn’t even close.

    The whole point about accepting refugees from countries like Syria and Somalia is that their governments cannot be counted on to protect them. We know that the Syrian government is corrupt and sponsors terrorism against its own population, and we know that the Somalian government is practically non-existent. That is why there are refugees. Saying that we can’t allow travel by the people who are the victims of their own government, because their governments are unwilling or unable to share information about them, kind of defeats the purpose of having a refugee policy.

    The statement that you appear to object to is, “In issuing this ban, the President offered no evidence that our current vetting practices were not working and no evidence that immigrants or visitors from these countries pose a threat to the United States.” This statement cannot be falsified by showing that the government asserted that certain countries do not share information with us. What I am looking for is evidence that, say, information shared by the Assad regime or the Islamic Republic of Iran would be more useful than information that we have used for years to vet people from these countries that people leave precisely because they don’t get along well with the governments.

    What the government provided was an assertion of a rationale. This is a very different thing than evidence of a danger.

  6. it's a series of tubes says:

    Thanks Michael – a couple responses to your comments:

    -“evidence” isn’t to be found in the court’s opinion. The opinion is the decision after consideration of the evidence. If you’d like to review the “evidence” – the DHS documents in question evaluating the information available from the various countries, they can be found with some quick Googling. In various instances, the documents pre-date the Trump administration.

    -“What the government provided was an assertion of a rationale.” Yes, and under the applicable standard of review of the government’s actions, that is sufficient, and that is why ban was upheld.

    To be clear, I’m not commenting on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the policy in question (if it gives you any insight into my personal approach, I’m typing this at a desk on which sits a little clay cow, a token of appreciation I received for some of the legal work I have done on behalf of Sudanese refugees). What I am objecting to are the false (yes, FALSE) statements in the OP regarding the evidence proffered by the government and considered by the court in Trump v. Hawaii.

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