Biden DHS candidate has a “refreshing” assembly with religion communities about immigration, refugees
WASHINGTON (RNS) – President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security held a roundtable meeting with a range of faith groups on Friday, December 18, at which attendees said they were “refreshing” a departure from the Trump administration’s militant relationship with religious organizations over immigration and refugee policy.
The long list of participants, who virtually teamed up with Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-American Sephardic Jew and former refugee Biden, was selected as his DHS candidate.
A Biden interim official noted that there was considerable energy in the meeting created by Biden’s promise to lift President Donald Trump’s travel ban, known as the “Muslim ban”. They also discussed laws and regulations for asylum applications.
Biden recently announced at a Jesuit Refugee Service meeting that he would raise the refugee limit to 125,000, even above the 110,000 limit set by former President Barack Obama in his senior year in office.
“The door just hasn’t been open to discussion for many of us in the human rights community for the past four years,” said Mark, director of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Hetfield told Religion News Service after the meeting. “It was nice to have a meeting where you can discuss topics – that’s a 180 degree change from what we’ve seen in the past four years.”
Many faith groups working with the federal government on immigration had conflicting ties with the Trump administration when the White House repeatedly cut the refugee ceiling to historic lows, most recently to just 15,000.
Last year, three faith-based groups, including HIAS, sued the Trump administration over an executive order authorizing state and local officials to block refugee resettlement.
“I honestly believe that there is no better person in the country to play this role than Alejandro.” Hetfield said by Mayorkas, who served on the HIAS board of directors. “I think there is a real obligation to solve problems, to work together and to gather different opinions to make the government work better.”
Hetfield and others aParticipants found that Mayorkas was himself a political refugee from Cuba.
“He’s been through it,” said Hetfield, who described the entire meeting as “refreshing.”
Nathan Bult, director of government affairs at Bethany Christian Services, told RNS that Mayorkas took “detailed notes” during the 90-minute meeting.
Bult, whose organization looked after a number of children separated from their families under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy, called on Mayorkas to continue protecting unaccompanied children. Biden’s promise to set up a task force to reunite children with their families was also discussed.
Another participant, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, said he was also encouraged by the discussion of “bipartisan humane and sensible immigration reform”.
He and others said they were grateful to have Mayorkas’ ear, but insisted on action.
“I felt like it was a real listening session and a lot of us who have been there know when we’re going to be filibustered,” Salguero told RNS. “Now I hope we can move from listening to implementing.”
The meeting was also attended by representatives from Catholic Charities USA, Emgage, Latter-day Saint Church of Jesus Christ, Legal Aid, Christian Churches Together, Jesuit Refugee Services USA and the United States Conference of the United States, according to a Biden transition official Catholic bishops. the Arab American Institute, the Bridging Cultures Group, Esperanza, the Ismaili Council for the United States, the Secure Community Network, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Participants said they were confident that more meetings would take place in the future as it was at least the second meeting between the Biden transition team and the faith leaders that week. On Thursday, a group of members of the transition team also met with the Poor People’s Campaign, a faith-based advocacy group dedicated to eradicating poverty.
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