U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security
Hearing: The Syrian Refugee Crisis
and its Impact on the Security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program
Statement by Dr. Georgette F. Bennett
The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees
November 19, 2015
Chairman Gowdy, Ranking Member Lofgren, and Members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this Statement, condemning in the strongest terms any overt anti-Muslim rhetoric or legislative or administrative actions that would result in negative consequences to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, with a membership of more than 50 faith-based and secular organizations, is the nation’s leading interfaith response to the Syrian refugee crisis. A project of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, the Alliance’s mission is to raise funds to support direct humanitarian assistance; to raise awareness among the public, government leaders and the media about the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II and present policy reforms for its amelioration; and to promote transformative Syrian/Israeli civil society engagement to plant the seeds for future stability in the region.
The Multifaith Alliance condemns the despicable acts of terror committed in Paris, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon last week. Those horrific attacks, however, cannot justify an overly broad and highly reactive response that would, in fact, harm thousands of innocents rather than the hundreds of last week.
We are distressed to hear American politicians using this terrorism to justify barring Syrian refugees from our great country. We must ask: Why blame the victims of terror for the evil acts of the terrorists? This runs counter to who we are as a nation, which enshrines religious freedom in our Constitution and has always welcomed the distressed from other lands.
The most vulnerable of those fleeing Syria are from a number of different religious and ethnic backgrounds, including religious minorities and Muslims alike. To paint Muslim refugees, in particular, as security threats by virtue of their religion defies the compassion and values – and law – that shape and define American history.
Anti-refugee rhetoric runs counter to the key religious principles of the faiths represented in the Multifaith Alliance – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. All our faiths call for helping the needy, the oppressed, the stranger and the disadvantaged. Indeed, the guiding scriptural passage of the Multifaith Alliance comes from Leviticus 19:16 in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.”
We respectfully call on public officials and politicians to desist from inflammatory and misleading pronouncements, and to abstain from hostile, counter-productive actions directed at Syrian refugees and Muslims – especially at this highly emotional time. The slate of anti-refugee bills currently being proposed in our nation’s capital and in states around the country can only serve to escalate public fears, disseminate erroneous information, and, most importantly, undercut and undermine US efforts to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis. They should be soundly REJECTED.
Simultaneously, we stand by our government’s efforts to meticulously screen Syrian refugees coming into our country for resettlement:
We support initiatives to ensure that terrorists are not sneaking in disguised as refugees.
We reject watering down our security measures, while supporting some practical fixes that will make the process less complicated, benefiting both our nation’s security and Syrian refugees.
We support common sense approaches that will make the resettlement process more efficient by allocating more resources to screening, using a uniform algorithm for all screening agencies, and prioritizing women and children along with medical workers – to the benefit of both our nation’s security and Syrian refugees.
We stand ready to assist both Congress and the Administration in implementing these remedies – without punishing the victims.
The fact is that refugees are the most scrutinized population entering the United States. According to Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute, of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been resettled in the U.S., two have ever been associated with terrorist threats. Coming in as a refugee is the most difficult and complicated path into America – leading to bottlenecks in the system and excessively long delays in processing. This is what we must address to promote entry and resettlement of those who need us most.
The Syrian refugee catastrophe is too often discussed through the lens of partisan politics or national security instead of our moral and humanitarian commitment to the most disadvantaged among us. Too much of this rhetoric is a smokescreen for bigotry. 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. These include millions of women and children who are suffering from assault, abuse, and post-traumatic syndrome and a generation of Syrian children growing up with no schooling. This lost generation is the true threat to us. If we fail to save them and educate them now, they will become vulnerable to radicalization in the future. That will be the price we pay for our current negligence.
The other price we will pay is the loss of a skilled population that can make great contributions to our country. According to the Syrian American Medical Association, more than 15,000 doctors have fled Syria.
There are many underserved communities in the U.S. that have little access to medical care and where these doctors could fill a great need. We already have 10,000 Syrian doctors in the U.S. who have been in this country for 10 or 20 years. They are an affluent, philanthropic group, who make great contributions to their communities. Are these not the kinds of people we need and want in the U.S.? Do we not have depressed cities that are depopulated, which need an infusion of skilled workers to rebuild them?
The United States has the opportunity to lead a global response that honors the human dignity of each and every person seeking freedom from the violent conditions in Syria today. Our country should demonstrate through actions, not words, the values of what it means to be an American.
The multifaith members of the Alliance lift their 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.
The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees
The mission of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees is to mobilize global support
to alleviate the Syrian humanitarian crisis, heighten awareness of its growing dangers,
and advance future stability in the region. MFA is a project of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in cooperation with JDC.
With over 50 member organizations—Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Sikh, Evangelical, Lutheran—we are working tirelessly to raise emergency funds for disaster relief agencies on the ground in the Middle East. Our current members:
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)
Auburn Theological Seminary
B'nai Jeshurun, New York, NY
The Brotherhood Synagogue, New York, NY
Catholic Relief Services
Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)
Church World Service
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York, NY
Congregation Beth El, South Orange, NJ
Congregation Kehillath Israel, Brookline, MA
The Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU
Episcopal Relief & Development
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Foa & Son
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and
United Church of Christ
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Interfaith Center of NY
International Refugee Assistance Project
Jamaica Muslim Center, Jamaica, NY
Jewish Coalition for Syrian Refugees
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Federations of North America
The Jewish Theological Seminary
Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago
London School of Economics and Political Science: Faith Centre
Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue
National Council of Jewish Women
New York Board of Rabbis
New York Legal Assistance Group
North Carolina Hillel: UNC Chapel Hill
Orient for Human Relief
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Saint Peter's Lutheran Church, New York, NY
Syrian American Medical Society
Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding
Temple Emanu-El, Closter, NJ
UJA-Federation of New York
Union for Reform Judaism
Union Theological Seminary
Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
World Jewish Congress
World Jewish Relief