Written Testimony of Catherine Orsborn, Director of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign
Submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the Hearing Record on “Oversight of the Administration’s FY 2016 Refugee Resettlement Program: Fiscal and Security Implications”
October 1, 2015; 2:00 pm
I would like to thank Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, and members of the Judiciary Committee for providing the opportunity to submit this statement on the need to address the Syrian refugee crisis. As I will discuss below, this is an issue that is too often clouded by misinformation and prejudice, and I welcome the opportunity to expand the conversation of this critical topic.
I bring before you today the collective voices of 31 different religious denominations and organizations, the members of the Shoulder to Shoulder campaign to combat anti-Muslim bigotry. We are calling on the United States government to respond generously in the face of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, and urging public officials to refrain from bigoted and discriminatory rhetoric and approaches in this response. The magnitude of the Syrian crisis is daunting, and the U.S. must help to lead a global response that honors the human dignity of each and every person seeking freedom from the violent conditions in Syria today.
As religious leaders, it is deeply concerning to our coalition that we too often hear this crisis discussed in terms of U.S. national security instead of our moral and humanitarian commitment to the least among us. We are of course concerned with safeguarding the national security of our nation, but too much of this rhetoric is a smokescreen for bigotry and prejudice. Elected officials have referred to the refugee resettlement system as a “Trojan horse” for terrorist groups. Such claims are unfounded, as the resettlement program is one of the most difficult ways to enter our country. Syrians from all backgrounds are leaving some of the most horrific conditions imaginable to find security for themselves and their communities; their human security is the security that is most threatened at the moment. We must not talk about Syrian refugees as “security threats,” politicizing their plight, but we should talk about them as human beings who, as such, deserve our respect and compassion.
We do a disservice to our nation’s values if we allow religious prejudice to influence our response to this crisis. Our nation’s mandate in resettling refugees is to prioritize the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable of those fleeing Syria are from a number of different religious and ethnic backgrounds- this includes religious minorities and Muslims alike. All of whom are fleeing the horrific conditions in Syria today; all of whom are searching for peace and security for themselves and their families. To paint Muslim refugees in particular as security threats on the basis of their religious identity is bigoted and defies the compassion with which we as Americans of different faith traditions should approach those asking for our help.
We thus lift our voices to call upon our elected officials to recognize the human dignity of Syrians reaching out for global support in this time of great need. We call on our elected officials to refrain from politicizing their plight and to instead reach into the wells of our own national values to find the courage and compassion to extend a welcoming hand to those seeking refuge without religious or ethnic discrimination in so doing.