Column: Compassion for immigrants, refugees will keep America great

Published Feb. 2, 2017

I am deeply saddened and concerned by President Donald Trump's recent executive orders that stand in stark contrast to the foundations upon which our nation was built.

Such orders call for the building of walls along our border with Mexico, increased deportation and detention of the undocumented, punishments against so-called sanctuary cities and counties, and a halt to refugee resettlement. These actions compromise our respect for the dignity of the human person and efforts to work toward the common good. Last week, we marched in defense of unborn human life. Today, we join in solidarity with people from around the world who cry out on behalf of the immigrant and the refugee since all people bear the image and likeness of God.

Our nation is largely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. The United States has always been a safe haven for those fleeing religious persecution and violence. The vast majority of immigrants and refugees are hard-working people who have fled their homes out of desperation, seeking safety and a better life for themselves and for their children. They live, work and pray in our midst. The United States is a better country due to their contributions. We call again for comprehensive immigration reform that respects due process, family reunification and a path toward earned citizenship that is not burdensome in terms of time and cost.

In his address to Congress in 2015, Pope Francis commended the United States for being welcoming to immigrants and refugees. On the day of our new president's inauguration, Pope Francis sent his good wishes along with a reminder of our nation's responsibility as a world leader, saying, "At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation's commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide."

The need for the United States to show leadership in welcoming refugees and providing freedom from persecution is more urgent than ever. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were more than 66 million displaced persons in the world at the end of 2015. They are victims of violence and terror — literally fleeing for their lives. Most have lost family members and all have lost their homes, their country and their way of life. They are people just like you and me. They deserve the best that we have to offer.

The process of accepting refugees is not well understood. Refugees face a lengthy and thorough vetting process before they are admitted to our country. In 2016, the United States welcomed 84,995 refugees, which is only a small fraction of those forcibly displaced around the world today. Creating a ban on resettlement from specific countries is un-Christian and un-American.

While respecting the president's primary duty to keep our country and citizens safe, I stand with and support our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers. I call on all people of faith and goodwill to not remain silent when the language of fear and intimidation conveys a false impression of who immigrants and refugees are and what brings them to the United States.

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We must not allow fear to numb us to the suffering of others. As the inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Let our nation continue to be a beacon of hope.

Bishop Gregory L. Parkes leads the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which includes the 432,000 Catholics in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.