Indianapolis, Ind., Dec 9, 2015 / 06:03 am
Efforts to resettle a Syrian refugee family in Indiana are part of a long Catholic tradition that saves lives, the Archbishop of Indianapolis has said after meeting with the state's governor about his security concerns.
"Three years ago, this family fled the violence of terrorists in their homeland of Syria. After two years of extensive security checks and personal interviews, the United States government approved them to enter our country," Archbishop Joseph Tobin said Dec. 8.
"For 40 years the archdiocese's Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world. This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition."
The Indianapolis archdiocese was asked to help settle the family through a public-private partnership program between the federal government, the U.S. bishops' conference, and the conference's Migration and Refugee Services office. The archdiocese regularly participates in the program.
In mid-November Indiana Gov. Mike Pence suspended state agencies' involvement in the relocation of Syrian refugees following terrorist attacks that killed more than 120 people in Paris Nov. 19. Pence cited security concerns.
About 40 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Indiana since 2010, the Indianapolis Star reports.
Pence met with the the archbishop Dec. 2 for about an hour to discuss the situation.
Archbishop Tobin thanked the governor for meeting with him. The archbishop said he was able to explain to him "the plight of this family" and the role of the archdiocese's refugee services program in welcoming them to Indianapolis. He said the family already has relatives in the area.
On Dec. 8 Pence's office said that he holds Catholic Charities "in the highest regard but respectfully disagrees with their decision to place a Syrian refugee family in Indiana at this time."
His statement cited the alleged involvement of a Syrian refugee in the November Paris attacks by Islamist extremists, an FBI director's statement about failures in the resettlement program, and a statement from the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee that individuals with links to Syrian terrorist groups have attempted to access the U.S. through its refugee program.
"The safety and security of the people of Indiana is Governor Pence's top priority," the governor's office said. "The State of Indiana will continue to suspend its participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana until the federal government takes action to address the concerns raised about this program."
Archbishop Tobin explained his reaction to the governor.
"I listened to the governor's concerns regarding security and prayerfully considered his request that we defer from welcoming them until Congress had approved new legislation regarding immigrants and refugees. I informed the governor prior to the family's arrival that I had asked the staff of Catholic Charities to receive this husband, wife and their two small children as planned."
The archbishop also reflected on the need for prayer, peace, and hope.
"We welcome this family during Advent, a time when the Christian community asks God to renew our hope and recognize God's saving power among us," he said. "As we wait with hope during this season of Advent, I ask all people of good will to pray for peace in our homes, local communities and throughout the world."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a federal lawsuit against Pence on behalf of an Indiana refugee resettlement non-profit Exodus. The lawsuit accuses the governor of violating the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause by accepting refugees from other countries but not from Syria.
The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the greatest consequences of the Syrian civil war, which began in March 2011.
There are more than 4.1 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Turkey and Lebanon. The year 2015 marked a massive effort on the part of some refugees to move to Europe.