Robert Bowers was furious at what he believed was a Jewish plot for more refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S., before allegedly killing 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
Bowers claimed that HIAS (a prominent Jewish humanitarian organisation) was bringing migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras northward in order to commit violence. This was false. It is true, however, that many U.S. religious communities, including American Jews have supported asylum-seeking migrants and refugees who have arrived in the U.S. for decades.
My research into the non-profits that help these refugees and immigrants revealed that, while religious communities continue to do this work through faith based nonprofits, there are signs suggesting that some white Christians don’t support this mission.
Support Refugees Through Religious Advocacy Jewish
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all hold the idea of welcoming strangers as a central principle. This idea originate in cultures that were born in deserts, where it was consider a death sentence to leave someone outside of the city gates. Many religious leaders from these faiths link that ethic with a responsibility for protecting refugees and other migrants from violence and oppression.
Faith communities made appeals to the U.S. government for help in welcoming Jews fleeing persecution, beginning in the late 19th Century. They advocate for Armenians to be allow to immigrate to America, after they were massacre by the Ottoman Empire’s leaders.
After World War II, a coalition of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish organizations finally convinced policymakers to adopt a more humanitarian-focused U.S. foreign strategy. The U.S. joined other countries to sign the 1951 Geneva Convention. This U.N. agreement established legal protection for refugees.
One of the main principles of the convention is to ban refugees from returning to unsafe countries. Sometimes, this means that refugees must be resettle in a safer country. Since then, faith-based organizations have partnered with the U.S. government.
The Sanctuary Movement Jewish
Between 1951 and 1980 the U.S. government resettled refugees on an ad-hoc basis, without investing much in aid. Faith-based organizations helped refugees get off to a great start in America during this period.
Asylum seekers were also support by religious groups. They are people who arrive seeking refugee status but need protection. Nearly 1 million Central Americans sought asylum at the U.S. borders between 1980 and 1991. The government denied almost all of their petitions from the beginning.
Many Jewish and Christian leaders supported these migrants. They gave sermons and organized protests to demand protection for Central American asylum seekers. Many religious communities offered sanctuary in their houses of worship and legal support to Central Americans asylum seekers.
The Center for Constitutional Rights sued federal government in 1985 on behalf of the American Baptist Church USA, Presbyterian Church USA and the Unitarian Universalist Association. They also sued four other religious organisations, including the United Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church. They claimed discrimination against Salvadoran asylum seekers. The class action lawsuit was eventually settle by the government.
Today’s Refugee Needs Are Being Met By Faith-Based Non-Profits
Since Congress passed the 1980 Refugee Act that created the current refugee resettlement system, U.S. faith-based organisations have played an important role.
Nine national voluntary agencies work directly with government. Six of these are faith-based. One is Jewish, one Catholic and one evangelical Christian, while three are mainline Protestant. These groups help refugees find housing, jobs, and enroll in English classes. This is regardless of whether the refugees are of the same religion or origin.
My research has shown that faith-based staff often use religious rhetoric to justify their work or to explain their commitment to their work.
Religiously-based refugee organisations also use interfaith language to frame their efforts. As they gather and disburse money, household goods and volunteers, they invoke the ethical imperative of providing asylum and refuge.
My experience with faith-based organizations revealed that their staff use religious. Rhetoric in ways that are inclusive of refugees from other religions.
The Jewish dimension is helping people understand that America is a country that welcomes everyone and helping people who have come from a land that maybe sometimes was considered to be worse than dirt. A director at a local office HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, explained to me. Do we apply the same principles to other communities we serve? Yes.
That sentiment was echoed by the director of Catholic Charities. He said, We have a saying. We don’t help people because they are Catholic. We help them because we are.
This movement is support by most Americans. These non profits can also create interfaith networks to support refugees and asylum seekers. This charitable work also done by secular groups.