[Editor’s note: Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, senior legislative specialist for Catholic Relief Services, responded via email on Feb. 10 to interview questions from Crux national correspondent Mark Zimmermann. She was asked about a Feb. 9 ruling by a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that upheld a temporary restraining order by a U.S. District Court in Washington State which in effect froze Trump’s executive order that would have prevented refugees from entering the country for 120 days and imposed a 90-day “travel ban” on people coming from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Catholic Relief Services, which was founded during World War II to assist refugees in Europe, continues that mission in 101 countries as the U.S. Catholic Church’s overseas relief agency. CRS recently marked what Gerschutz-Bell called a “a sad milestone,” when the agency estimated that it has now assisted more than one million Syrian refugees.]
Crux: What is your reaction to the court’s action?
Gerschutz-Bell: For the sake of the people whose lives have been upended, and in some cases put at further risk by the ban, we are relieved to see the suspension of the ban was upheld.
What has been the human impact of the freeze on the president’s immigration order?
Families and individuals who were prepared to board planes and start a new life were told to just wait, as if they could put their lives on hold. In some cases, people were put further at risk. After years of screenings and clearances, others had left jobs, sold all of their possessions, and prepared themselves psychologically to start new lives.
Families longing to welcome a loved one were left distraught, wondering when, if ever, they might be reunited.
How has your agency been involved in the aftermath of the executive order?
CRS serves refugees overseas, so our programs could fill in the needs of refugees who were unable to travel. Some required additional emergency protection because their lives were at stake. Here in the U.S., we reached out to try to halt the order, in large part by telling the stories of the people affected.
The president said in response to the court’s ruling the nation’s security is at stake. From your perspective, how do you balance the nation’s security concerns with treating refugees and immigrants in a just and compassionate manner?
From CRS’s perspective, refugees and immigrants make the United States stronger. Our country was founded by people fleeing their government as many of these refugees are. Catholic teaching acknowledges that governments have a duty to protect their citizens, but that protection must be balanced with our obligation to welcome those in need.
The existing vetting process is the toughest way to enter the United States; refugees undergo rigorous screening for more than 18 months. More than 3 million refugees have been resettled since the 1970s, so you might say that their record is quite good.
What do you hope will happen next?
We know that this debate will not end with a court decision. We hope Americans will continue to speak out about their values of welcome to refugees and immigrants; we hope they will tell their members of Congress that they want to welcome more refugees, not fewer.
With 21 million refugees around the world, U.S. leadership is as critical now as it was after World War II when, arguably, our country was at the height of its global leadership.