President Trump said the ban was put in place to stop "radical Islamic terrorists" and to allow time for agencies to develop stricter screening programs for those coming into the country.
Two other orders the same week focused on addressing undocumented migrants already in the country and increasing border security. They included plans to build a wall along the Mexican border, increase the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and penalize jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration laws – called "sanctuary cities" – by withholding federal grants and other funds.
Kerwin argued that while the executive orders are framed as a matter of national security, in fact, the order "exaggerates the threat from refugees in the United States beyond recognition."
He pointed to research by the Cato Institute, which found that between 1975 and 2015, the United States admitted 3.2 million refugees, and only three people have been killed by refugee attacks – a minuscule risk that also doesn't fully incorporate new, more restrictive protections already in place, he said.
"The overall point is that refugees themselves do not threaten security, terrorists do, and the failure of states to address this crisis also undermines security," Kerwin stated. "We're facing not a refugee crisis, but a crisis in refugee protection, which the executive order makes far worse."
"More broadly," he continued, by stepping back, the United States might be providing a troubling example for other nations. "It's really impossible to think how the greatest refugee crisis in history since WWII could be resolved without the US playing a leading role as it has in past refugee crises."
Speakers at the press conference emphasized that current U.S. security vetting for refugees is already very strong, and while vetting concerns are always valid, the actions taken by the executive orders are disproportionate to the threat presented.
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., worried that the new orders would make Americans less safe by making immigrants less likely to report crimes for fear of deportation, thus allowing perpetrators to evade justice.
She also argued that the United States does not have the resources to carry through on the orders – there are simply not enough immigration officers and judges to review each of the 11 million cases in the country.
"What we're going to see is the long-term detention of immigrants," she warned. "People waiting for their day in court may languish in prison for years," a move that she said will be costly to taxpayers and will violate the dignity of the persons detained.
Geschütz Bell added that the funds that will go into building a wall and hiring new border and immigration officers could instead be used to examine the root causes of migration. She pointed to Catholic Relief Service's investment in and work with Honduran schools – work that undermines the gangs and resultant violence that has lead people to flee Honduras in the first place.
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Within three years, she said, the program has already had immense success in educating people and stabilizing the area. "Enabling people to thrive where they are is not only more humane, but it is a cheaper option for the American people."
Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, voiced hope that as time passes, implementation of the executive orders will become more "humane." He noted that the Trump Administration has already agreed to allow in more than 8,000 people who have already left refugee areas, as well as Iraqis who have provided aid to the United States Military.
"We're getting some indications of the humane implementation of the order," he continued, and asked Catholics to use their influence to continue to push the administration towards more humane actions.
Geschütz Bell advocated for the humane protection of other vulnerable communities that need special consideration, such as female-headed households, children and people with medical needs.
At the root of the idea of humane treatment, added Sister Donna Markham O.P., president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, is the understanding that refugees are human persons with dignity.
She urged Catholics to remember that "they are people like ourselves who woke up one morning and learned everything they had was destroyed," and who feel depressed, downtrodden and rejected by those who turn them away in their time of distress.