Other Voices

Fort Worth bishop: We must help refugees fleeing wars, violence and religious persecution

Three children from a family of former war refugees stand near the tents they now live in on Jan. 25 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Three children from a family of former war refugees stand near the tents they now live in on Jan. 25 in Kabul, Afghanistan. The Washington Post

One day this past week, Fatima, an 11-year-old girl traumatically separated from her parents since 2015, was scheduled to arrive in Fort Worth.

She was to be greeted at the airport by case managers from Catholic Charities Fort Worth, the social justice arm of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.

They were to take her to meet her new foster family.

She would be given food, a bed, school supplies, clothing and love.

She was planning to become friends with the children of Fort Worth in school, and she would finally be free of the despair of merely surviving in a refugee camp without a safe place to call home.

But that day has come and gone, and so could more before the possibility of her experiencing a true childhood.

I am calling on those in positions of responsibility in the federal government to use right reason and sound judgment in administering the recent executive order so that refugees fleeing wars, violence, religious persecution and other atrocities — like this 11 year-old — are screened appropriately and allowed into the safety of our country without delay.

A radical ban on all seeking entry into the United States like that implemented by the president’s executive order destroys a reasonable balance between our need to screen vigilantly for infiltrators who could do us harm and our moral obligation to shelter those in harm’s way.

To impose also a religious litmus test for preferential treatment of Christians over Muslims in resettlement of refugees is to promote tacitly religious bigotry and division.

As a religious leader and citizen of the United States, I respect and believe in the importance of national security.

I also understand that security and service to immigrants and refugees are not mutually exclusive principles.

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth works only within the laws of our republic to serve this vulnerable population in assisting them in healing from trauma and toward their becoming productive members of our community.

Since 1975, Catholic Charities Fort Worth has been resettling refugees in North Texas in coordination with the federal, state and local governments, supporting them in our shared journey to live the American dream.

We have amazing success to show for it, including that 96 percent our match grant clients are fully self-sufficient within six months of arriving here in our city.

That means no benefits and no assistance whatsoever.

Their sheer tenacity and work ethic make refugees some of the most hard-working and thankful people you have met.

You might not even know that you have met them.

Here in Fort Worth alone, refugees have started businesses, served as public leaders, clergy and even represent members of the Catholic Charities of Fort Worth staff.

Our great nation has a wonderful track record of opening its arms to those in search of hope.

It does so in a way that is good for the families resettled, good for our communities and good for our country.

To reduce the number of refugees that our country is willing to welcome annually from 110,000 to a ceiling of 50,000 is an abandonment of our moral responsibility and our American heritage, and it injures our nation.

Bishop Michael F. Olson is bishop of the 90-parish Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.