When 31 governors called for a ban on Syrian refugees coming into the U.S. after last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, it united faith-based communities across the country. They are challenging the wave of opposition to these refugees by taking a leading role in resettling them.
“If they didn’t have the churches and synagogues providing what they do, this system would collapse,” says Jennifer Quigley, referring to the federal resettlement program that is now under attack from Congress and many governors. Quigley is a strategist for refugee protection with Human Rights First, an advocacy group that has pressed the administration to increase Syrian resettlement from the pledged goal of 10,000 in 2016 to 100,000 in fiscal year 2017.
“Refugees are facing crises every day against extremists in the world. We need to stand with refugees, especially now,” Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale in central New Jersey says. Kaper-Dale and his wife, Stephanie, serve as co-pastors at the Reformed Church of Highland Park. Their local interfaith coalition has supported 14 refugees so far this year from countries including Colombia and Syria. In addition, Kaper-Dale’s church is supporting a Syrian family applying for asylum. Their interfaith coalition is committed to resettling 50 more refugees from Africa and the Middle East, who are expected to start arriving in the fall.
Even as Congress and President Obama fight over whether to accept Syrians under the current federal program, there is a “real desire at the grass roots, stepping up to the plate in new ways,” says Shaun Casey, the State Department’s special representative for religion and global affairs.
The U.S. is committed to resettling 75,000 refugees total in 2016, with an additional 10,000 Syrians.