Syrian refugee child. Credit: vlada93 / Shutterstock.

President Trump’s executive order on refugees has quickly become one of the most heated political decisions of his new presidency.

The policy halts the refugee admissions program for 120 days. It stops all entry for 90 days of those coming from seven countries deemed to be compromised by terrorism. And it bars Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Critics of the policy – including the U.S. bishops – say that the United States has a duty toward those who have been forcibly displaced by violence. Others defend the policy on the grounds of prudential judgment, saying it is a necessary measure while we re-evaluate our screening processes and work to ensure our national security.


But regardless of your views on the policy, compassion is not an optional part of the Christian life. If you applauded the refugee ban as a major step forward in national security, and then went back to your daily life without a single thought of the human suffering that will be intensified as a result of this policy, it may be time to reconsider your approach to the issue.

Refugees are not vermin to be exterminated. They are human persons, with dignity, created in the image and likeness of God. Banning these refugees from entering our country – even temporarily – means that people will go hungry. They will suffer. Some will likely die. That is not something to celebrate. If you believe that it is necessary to ban them, you should see it not as a political victory, but as a necessary tragedy.

And as Catholics, we have a duty to pray for them. For the woman dying of cancer who may not get access to pain medication. For the Christian family who fled the reign of ISIS and just wants their life to go back to normal. For the mother traumatized by the murder of her son, who won’t be able to receive the mental health care she desperately needs.

Our faith teaches us that our prayers and sacrifices really are efficacious at bringing grace into the world. Our brothers and sisters are suffering, and we have an obligation to remember them.

The next time you debate which restaurant to eat at on a Saturday night, say a prayer for the refugee who is eating yet another meal of rice, lentils and canned fish.

When you climb into your comfortable bed, in your quiet house, say a prayer for the refugee who will sleep on a trailer floor.

And when you’re tempted to complain about an inconvenience in your life, say a prayer for the refugees in an overcrowded camp, surrounded by the smell of human waste, wishing they had access to a shower.


Maybe you can forego a caramel latte or a glass of wine or a slice of cake this week, and offer it up for a refugee who may go years without savoring such simple pleasures.

And maybe you can take the money that you saved from that purchase and donate it to a relief agency that is working to offer much-needed assistance to refugees in camps across the globe.

Amid the heated political rhetoric, it can become far too easy to lose sight of the humanity of the people involved. But any time that we are forced to shut the door on someone in need – even if we do so out of necessity – that is a tragedy, not a victory.