By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Support for refugees and immigrants overflowed Monday night from the Muhammad Ali Center’s outdoor amphitheater to the surrounding streets, where between 5,000 and 7,500 people took part in Mayor Greg Fischer’s Rally for American Values.
Carrying placards and chanting “Love not hate makes America Great,” rally-goers joined their voices with religious leaders around the nation, including Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who denounced President Donald J. Trump’s executive orders restricting refugee and immigrant entry to the United States.
An executive order issued by the president on Jan. 27 suspends the resettlement of refugees in the United States for 120 days and bans from entry to the U.S. citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. The order blocks refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely and reduces the number of refugees that will be permitted this year from 110,000 to 50,000.
Archbishop Kurtz said in a statement issued Jan. 28 that the Archdiocese of Louisville has resettled refugees for decades and that this ministry is “part of our identity, since as a Catholics, we are called by Jesus Christ to protect the vulnerable and recognize the human dignity of all people.”
“We pray for a pastoral heart as we strive to treat people in a humane way that respects our common good and the common desire that all have for full and safe lives,” said the archbishop, who was travelling in Vietnam at the time as part of a delegation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the archbishop’s absence, Father Steven Henriksen — pastor of the Church of the Ascension and chair of Catholic Charities’ board — represented the Catholic Church at Monday’s rally. He was one of several religious leaders who spoke alongside Mayor Fischer and other civic leaders.
Father Henriksen told the crowd that Christ calls his followers to “welcome the stranger” and called care for migrants and refugees a matter of family values, noting that nearly two-thirds of refugees being resettled by Catholic Charities this fiscal year are joining family members already here.
“Last year, Catholic Charities of Louisville assisted in the resettlement of nearly 1,300 refugees,” he said, adding that nearly half of them were school-age children. “You know, children deserve refuge from persecution. That’s what it means to be compassionate.
“This year, nearly half of those resettled were from the countries of Somalia, Iraq and Sudan,” he said. “Nearly two thirds of those cases involved families seeking to be reunited. When you and I express our support for love and compassion and kindness and in opposition to executive orders, we stand up for families and family values.”
Father Henriksen also pointed out that the executive order targets Muslims, though, he said, some have suggested that’s not the case.
“Well, my friends, we Louisvillians are common-sense people and we know that if it talks like a duck and it walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” he said as the crowd cheered, laughed and began to make quacking sounds. “The order to shutdown our country’s refugee admissions program focuses specifically on Muslim-majority countries,” he said. “It’s a duck my friends.”
He went on to assert that his faith tradition “tells us that we are to welcome the stranger and love the lowly and to reach out to the forgotten and to know the blessedness of those seeking mercy. Let it be so.”
Catholic Charities of Louisville has resettled refugees in the Louisville area for the last 40 years. It also runs the statewide Kentucky Office for Refugees, which coordinates refugee resettlement in Kentucky.
Catholic Charities planned to assist in the resettlement of 700 refugees this fiscal year (which began in October), according to Colin Triplett, director of the agency’s Migration and Refugee Services. So far this fiscal year, 272 refugees have been resettled.
Triplett said there were 15 refugees bound for Louisville when the executive order was issued. Their fate and that of others slated to arrive in the coming months are in limbo, Triplett said.
“A lot is unknown and a lot is scary,” Triplett said. “But the immediate impact is we have clients ready to arrive, they have bookings and visas ready. But it looks like they’re not going to be able to make it.
“They’ve been waiting for years, had the 12-point checks and all the screenings (for vetting) and it looks like they won’t make it.
“The human impact is very real,” he said. “It’s devastating for these families,” many of whom are hoping to reunite with children, parents and siblings already living here.
On Jan. 31, the White House announced that 872 refugees who were already scheduled to arrive when the order was issued would be allowed entry. Triplett said he’s hopeful that the 15 refugees scheduled for Louisville will be among that group.
Becky Jordan, the state refugee coordinator in the Kentucky Office for Refugees, said the reduction in the number of refugees that will be permitted this year — from 110,000 to 50,000 — “is a blow to the (resettlement) program.”
Nationwide, Jordan sad, about 30,000 refugees have already been resettled this fiscal year (which began in October). Kentucky has resettled 893 refugees this fiscal year, she said. That represents 35 percent of refugees who were scheduled to arrive this fiscal year.
Jordan added, “We want to have hope. The reaction over the weekend demonstrates there’s a lot of support for this program throughout the country. Because it does reflect the values of what this country is. We are an immigrant nation. Some of us are just four or five generations removed.
“We want to be on the right side of history,” she added. “We need to welcome refugees to this country — that’s what we’re founded upon.”