Hundreds of people took part in a “holy conversation” Tuesday night at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington to stand in support of refugees.
In addition to faith and civic leaders, the audience heard from refugees themselves.
“Refugees come here to this country not because we want to take advantage of your land. Not because we want to steal your jobs. Not because we want to cause a war within this country,” said Rosine Yanyi, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “We want to seek refuge here.”
Immigration, and refugees in particular, has taken the national spotlight in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order, issued Friday, that stops refugee admissions for the next four months and indefinitely bars the State Department from issuing visas to Syrian nationals. The order also includes a 90-day ban on all immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Faith leaders from a variety of backgrounds, including from the Lexington Zen Center and both the city’s Jewish congregations, lent their voices to the conversation Tuesday, saying helping refugees is foundational to faith.
“It is a religious problem because our sacred texts command us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, free the oppressed, pursue justice and always defend the stranger, having ourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt,” said Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel.
“While some people vow to build a wall, let us vow tonight to build a bridge,” he said. “To be an American isn’t about pushing people away. To be an American is about offering a safe harbor to bring people in. Nothing could be more UN-American than ‘America first.’”
Civic leaders including Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Lexington police Chief Mark Barnard were also on the list of speakers.
One of the key goals of the event was to help attendees better understand how refugee resettlement works and how they can help support refugees locally through groups such as Kentucky Refugee Ministries, as well as broader efforts, like the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.
Allison Duvall of Episcopal Migration Ministries, a national organization that helps refugees resettle in the United States, said the facts about how refugee resettlement works have been obfuscated.
“There is no more difficult way to enter the United States than through the refugee resettlement program,” she said.
She said the “rigorous and lengthy” security screening process involves the FBI, homeland security, the Department of Defense and the State Department, with fewer than 1 percent of the world’s refugees, people displaced from their homelands by fear of persecution, ever receiving the opportunity to be resettled in a country offering a permanent home.
“Resettlement is the option of last resort” for refugees, Duvall said. “They can’t go home, and there’s no way to integrate into the host country” to which they initially fled.