Trump’s War on Refugees

doubletrumpOctober 30, 2018 – President Trump has ordered 5,200 troops to our Southern border to confront an unarmed, under-fed caravan of desperate persons forced to flee brutal persecution.

The caravan is composed mostly of children, women, and men who would never think of leaving their homelands if they thought they could be safe there.

Yet President Trump is exploiting the spineless xenophobes in his base by telling them that poor people fleeing bloody oppression will be a mortal danger to us all. His actual presence in the Oval Office proves a lot of people vote out of fear, and a week before the Mid-Term elections he is oozing himself into people’s anxieties like a gelatinous Blob [yes, invoke the 1958 cinema classic]. Today he went on the attack against natural born U.S. citizens whose parents were foreigners, claiming he could revoke their citizenship with a stroke of his pen. He cannot, of course, but he thinks his fearful followers don’t know that.

I would be ashamed if I were among those who think suffering refugees should be blocked from our borders by 5,200 U.S. troops – a number, HuffPo points out, that exceeds the troops we have in Iraq or Syria.

I would be ashamed because it reminds me of the paranoia that refused entrée to our shores to thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and sent them back to face certain death.

I would be ashamed because it reminds me of the fear that led Franklin Roosevelt to round up thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and corral them in detention camps.

Both of these unconscionable events were ordered by a liberal Democratic president. This week a self-made meme on Facebook this week sought to expose liberal hypocrisy.

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I think that is supposed to be cuttingly amusing, but in fact over the decades hundreds of thousands of Americans have welcomed refugees and immigrants into their homes and churches, and many more are still keeping their doors open.

When my friend and colleague Matthew Giuffrida, American Baptist director of refugee resettlement, died in 2003, he had overseen the resettlement of 90,000 refugees, most of them as desperate as the caravan that is approaching our southern border now.

The first onslaught of refugees came after millions of refugees displaced by World War II needed homes. The American Baptist resettlement program, working with Church World Service and the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, worked assiduously to meet the need.

In August 1972, Dictator Idi Amin ordered the immediate expulsion of 80,000 persons of South Asian ancestry from Uganda. Giuffrida, along with Church World Service and other religious groups, called congregations to action. I was a member of Royersford, Pa., Baptist Church at the time, and we were just one of the thousands congregations from all denominations who opened our doors, found homes for the Ugandan refugees, and helped them find employment.

Matthew Giuffrida would not have been afraid of the caravan of refugees approaching our border. In 1980, thousands of Cubans expelled by Fidel Castro in the exodus called the Mariel Boat lift arrived in Miami. Giuffrida immediately responded to their needs by calling on churches to sponsor as many people as possible and find housing and jobs for them. When it was revealed that a small percentage of Marielitos were gay, Giuffrida was immediately attacked by American Baptist homophobes who demanded his immediate resignation. But Dr. William K. Cober, director of American Baptist National Ministries (now Home Mission Societies) came to the defense of Giuffrida and the LGBTQ Cubano refugees. Matthew continued his work until 2003, when the refugee resettlement was complicated by the so-called war on terror.

“Following September 11, 2001, certain persons already in this country, and those seeking to enter, have been subjected to harsh and more restrictive government measures,” said Ken George, who coordinated the refugee resettlement program after Giuffrida retired. “However, American Baptists have a long and honorable tradition of welcoming the stranger and ministering to the newcomer, even during times when these activities run contrary to public opinion and policy.”

This “long and honorable tradition” continues to be maintained by the Roman Catholic Church and virtually all of the mainline denominations in the United States.

These are the people who live by the Judeo-Christian tenet of doing until others as we would have done to us.

And I know that people who follow this rule of gold will not be deceived by the political dissemblers and merchants of fear who sent an army to our southern border to ward off a caravan of poor people who only seek safety and peace.



About Philip E Jenks

Philip, a synodical deacon in the ELCA Metropolitan New York synod, is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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