Two years ago, I had the privilege of attending and reporting on a U.S. citizenship ceremony at the Brown County Courthouse. At this ceremony, 35 people from around the world recited an oath of allegiance to the United States.
One of the most inspiring parts of the ceremony was listening to Judge William Griesbach, the chief U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, address the men and women in his courtroom.
“My hope is that all of you will not only enjoy the blessings and privileges that come with citizenship of this great country, but that you will also take seriously the obligations that all citizens have: to act responsibly toward one another and contribute the best you can to the general welfare of the nation,” said Judge Griesbach.
He also reminded the soon-to-be citizens that while they would renounce allegiance to their native country, they did not renounce their culture or customs.
“One of the things that has made this country great is that it has been and continues to be the beneficiary of so many rich and beautiful cultural traditions from around the world,” he said. “We are very much a nation of immigrants … and when we are at our best, we continue to learn from and respect one another and the diverse traditions and cultures so many of us have brought with us.”
Judge Griesbach’s words came to mind last week after reading about President Trump’s visit to Minneapolis Oct. 10, where he took aim at the state’s Somali immigrant population.
“As you know, for many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers,” Trump said to people attending his re-election campaign rally at the Target Center.
His comments echoed ones he made in Minnesota in 2016, when he told attendees at a campaign rally that they had “suffered enough” as a result of “filthy refugee vetting” that allowed thousands of Somalis into the state, according to The Washington Post.
Somali Americans living in Minnesota, which is home to the nation’s largest Somali population at around 57,000, were understandably upset about Trump’s comments and fearful about acts of violence against their community.
The contrast between Judge Griesbach’s message at the Green Bay citizenship ceremony and Trump’s words at the Minneapolis campaign rally is stunning. It very much sums up the difference between a Gospel response to immigrants and refugees and a political response.
Pointing an accusatory finger at Somali refugees, blaming them for burdening Minnesota’s welfare system without facts to back up the claims, or without asking how their presence may actually benefit communities, is a shameful act. It borders on calumny, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church says “harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments” (CC 2477). The president’s aim was likely to seek support for his latest reduction in refugee settlement that he announced in September.
In response to the Trump administration’s plans to cut yearly refugee admissions to a record low 18,000 – a 40% drop from last year’s previous historic low of 30,000 — the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration said Sept. 27 that “turning a blind eye to those in need with such callous disregard for human life would go against the values of our nation.”
Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, also condemned Trump’s proposed executive order permitting state and city officials to turn away refugees from their communities.
Today’s political response to helping our neighbors seems to focus on painting them as burdens on society. The Gospel response, in Jesus’ words: “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” This resonates with Judge Griesbach’s words: “We are very much a nation of immigrants … and when we are at our best, we continue to learn from and respect one another.”