You probably don’t know this, but the Trump administration let up on a significant part of its travel ban last week, opening the door to refugees from around the world.
We can guess why this move attracted nearly zero attention: First, welcoming refugees isn’t the self-image the White House wants to promote to its base; second, reasonable and compassionate travel policies don’t fit with the media narrative on Trump.
But the move deserves notice and applause. The 120-day ban on refugees from all countries was a response to the refugee crisis in Europe. When the 120 days ran out last week, the administration, granted broad power by federal law to restrict visas, opted to end the moratorium for all but 11 countries. Those 11 countries account for a sizable minority of all refugees to the U.S., but they also represent continued security threats. For those 11 countries, the moratorium continues for 90 days.
So, the administration’s position on travel to the U.S. is now this: We welcome most refugees, but we will look to curb immigration of people who aren’t refugees.
The timing of the new refugee policy was notable because it came the same week as another underappreciated immigration development: a speech by a prominent Catholic cardinal from the developing world, reaffirming a nation’s right to restrict immigration while reaffirming all people’s duty to embrace refugees.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, a Guinean priest and Vatican official appointed by Pope Francis, spoke in Poland last week, where he stated that there is a clear “right of every nation to distinguish between a political or religious refugee.”
That is, people have a duty to take in those fleeing violence, famine, or oppression. This is what the Bible clearly teaches. “I was a stranger, and you invited me in,” Jesus says before explaining “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
But no country has the obligation to take in everyone who wants to enter. It almost seems too obvious to say, but these days, it needs saying: The people of a country have the right to determine who joins their country.
Cardinal Sarah was talking about Europe’s migrant crisis, but his principles apply in the U.S. as well.
President Trump’s rhetoric and policy on immigration have often missed the mark. At times, he’s peddled vicious stereotypes and sounded cold-hearted, and his first immigration order was a mess. But throughout his presidency, he has reasserted the same common-sense message behind Cardinal Sarah’s talk in Poland: A nation’s immigration policy, while bound by the duty to take in the needy, ought to be oriented towards the welfare of the people of that country.
Give succor to the homeless and the interests of current Americans: Those ought to be the guiding principles of America’s immigration policy. Increasingly, this framework, articulated by a prominent priest, is the stance of the U.S.