Like many people, I experienced the vitality and vigor of the pro-life movement, marching with others in the streets this past Friday, January 27th — in my case in my home town of South Bend, Indiana. In Washington, DC, the marchers heard Vice President Mike Pence proclaim that, at last, “life is winning.”
The untruth of that claim brings me to tears. After that appearance, Pence joined the president to sign the order imposing a four-month ban on all refugees, an indefinite ban on (the most vulnerable) Syrian refugees, and a halt to the arrival of even those who have already been vetted and approved for a visa to enter the country.
This order is personal for me. Through the work of my parish, and then the help of lawyers obtained through the migration office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a family who came as refugees from Iraq has been working for over two years to obtain a visa for the matriarch of the family, who faced significantly higher and longer layers of vetting because she had been a teacher in government schools. The others could not miss the chance to flee when they were approved, and it has been a very tough two years. She is alone, in poor health, has no way to earn a living, and is isolated from those she loves the most.
Finally, last month the visa was approved. Her beautiful family–husband, two daughters and their husbands, each family with five little kids in our local schools, 15 total, waiting for one more–were all overjoyed. I was overjoyed. (See this story in the South Bend Tribune of February 1, 2017.)
And now this. On the same day that these leaders claimed the pro-life mantle–the same day!–this order comes down. I think of the effect on this family and on tens of thousands of families in very desperate situations, including thousands of others also already vetted and approved.
I want to emphasize here that I am not making the connection to the pro-life movement as a rhetorical device. I have been a public and staunch pro-lifer my whole life. Like many others in the movement I opposed the previous administration’s numerous attacks on the right to life, including the HHS mandate.
But the politics of this week will in the end erode, not build up, a culture of life.
And the policies of this week, in particular the executive order of Friday, deserve robust condemnation—especially from Catholics. We are the tradition of faith and reason. Not only is this order unchristian but it is also irrational. Of the terror attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since September, 11, the number of perpetrators from the list of banned countries is precisely zero. Why was Saudi Arabia not on this list, or Russia, both of whom have been home to terror perpetrators in the U.S.?
While there are more eloquent ways to state the opposition to this ban, I think that the faith and reason test is simple and clear. Indeed, if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith. And indeed, I dare say that some outside of our Catholic, pro-life fold are waiting to hear from more of us about why our faith—faith in the person and teachings of Jesus—is not quite as offended by the present actions as it was by the previous administration.
And so this is a call. In your parish, or university, or city, consider making it known you wish to join—in the name of the pro-life movement—the display of repudiation for the unjust and unchristian orders of this week. The point will not be to grandstand and feel good about being more righteous than the administration. It will be to try to seek some legislative, judicial, or cultural remedies for the sake of our communities’ many refugee families and immigrants in vulnerable legal statuses.
Perhaps you can meet with officials. Perhaps you know someone in a position of influence. We must have hope that some aspects of this order, and the direction toward which it leads, can be walked back if enough people resist. Whatever we do, I hope it involve praying together and saying loudly together: “this is not the culture of life.”
Two days after the order was signed, I brought the beautiful Iraqi family to a gathering of faithful people, people from the Church, who prayed with and over this family. What they witnessed was not an “issue” but an encounter with real people, people who themselves are afraid but whom we have no rational basis to fear (I was grateful when they explained the layers and layers of vetting they received).
Lastly, in addition to having no rational basis to fear this family—or their matriarch whose reunification with her family is now in question—we do in fact risk losing the grace which God is offering to us. For the words of Christ himself tell us that in encountering the refugee we encounter Him.