A diverse group of leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities gathered Friday to declare opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees.
The leaders met at Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries in central Fresno. They said Fresno has long supported refugees, whom they said are a great asset to the city.
The leaders represented the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, Islamic Cultural Center, United Japanese Christian Church, First Congregational Church of Fresno, Temple Beth Israel and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), among others. In a news release ahead of the conference, the leaders called Trump’s announcement “tantamount to the Muslim ban” that Trump threatened during his campaign.
“These actions will greatly cripple the U.S. refugee resettlement program and deny protections to vulnerable refugees at precisely this time when there are more refugees around the globe than at any point since World War II,” said Zack Darrah, executive director of FIRM.
On Friday, Trump issued the most sweeping changes in more than 40 years to how the United States welcomes the world’s most vulnerable people.
A draft of the executive order indicates he wants the U.S. to stop accepting Syrian refugees and suspend the country’s broader refugee program for 120 days. The president would suspend issuing visas for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 30 days. All are predominantly Muslim countries.
The Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, director of refugee and immigration ministries for the national Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said the U.S. resettlement process was already unmatched around the world.
Stanley-Rea, who used to be executive director of FIRM and has worked with refugees for decades, said refugees are subject to strict and extensive background checks by various federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. She said Syrians already underwent additional steps to complete a process that takes 18 to 24 months.
The Rev. Akiko Miyake-Stoner of United Japanese Christian Church said Trump’s proposed order presents “eerie echoes” of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, adding that there are parallels of racism, prejudice and misinformation.
The Rev. Natalie Chamberlain of United Christian Church said everyone should welcome the latest wave of refugees just as the Hmong and other communities were welcomed. She said turning away from such people is not an American value “and certainly not a Christian value.”
“It is a humanitarian issue,” she said. “People are dying because they have nowhere to welcome them.”
Reza Nekumanesh, executive director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, said Trump’s policies are not about protecting the U.S. from terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism.
“It seems the policy of the Trump presidency is this: If we have bombed you, then you’re not welcome here,” he said. “The Trump presidency means that we are going to create terror in your backyard and then barricade your front door so that you cannot escape.”