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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Struggles for refugees, visitors

Sudan and Burma aren’t the only countries to raise red flags at the U.S. Treasury Department. Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Syria and the Balkans also draw attention.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service said the “war on terror” reaches beyond those countries. It said security measures have prevented refugees from Colombia from entering the U.S. and influenced the deportation of Lutherans from Muslim countries.

According to LIRS, in 2002 the Justice Department required all men living in the U.S. who are from predominantly Muslim countries to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Services, now called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some 82,000 men and boys were fingerprinted, photographed and questioned under oath. More than one-third of the members at HKBP (Indonesian) Montclair Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Denver—undocumented immigrants from Indonesia—were deported.

Last December, LIRS President Ralston Deffenbaugh wrote in its newsletter that while the REAL ID Act makes sense on the surface, it also bars some victims of terrorists from finding refuge in the U.S. Because the act defines a terrorist as anyone who provides material support to a terrorist organization, a Colombian refugee may be labeledas such, even though he or she was ransoming a kidnapped familymember or forced to pay “taxes” to rebel groups, he said.

It’s difficult to get visas for international guests, particularly young people. Church leaders can’t meet with some partners face-to-face, or have proper regional representation at consultative meetings, said Gaylord Thomas, Global Mission’s program director for East Africa.

Bernadette Passade Cissé, LIRS vice president for policy and advocacy, said the organization is tryingto “approach the government in a solution-oriented way [maintaining that] fair policy for migrants is consistent with security.”


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