WASHINGTON (June 4, 2004) -- Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commended President Bush for his remarks in support of refugees made at the 1st annual White House conference on Faith-Based and Community initiatives held earlier this week.
In a letter expressing appreciation to the President for his "heartfelt words concerning refugees," Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, USCCB President, said President Bush's "commitment to re-energizing and sustaining the U.S. tradition of admitting refugees from around the world was very much welcomed." Bishop Gregory went on to say that the increased refugee admissions to the United States this year have "required concerted effort on the part of many in our government, but the leadership from the White House has been critically important."
"It is heartening that the president has expressed his personal support for refugees and the need for Americans to be welcoming of them," said Mark Franken, executive director for USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services. Citing the dramatic reductions in refugee admissions since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Franken said, "Presidential leadership will be required to ensure that the refugee admissions program is fully restored, so that once again our great nation can be a beacon of hope and rescue for some of the world's persecuted."
In his remarks during the conference, President Bush emphasized the importance of receiving and caring for refugees. "As well, our great nation receives tens of thousands of refugees, which is good… These souls flee persecution and need help when they come to our country. Not only are there persons in our neighborhoods who are addicted and lonely and homeless and hungry, there are people who have come from far-away lands that need the same concern and care and love that our fellow citizens receive."
In particular, the president highlighted the stories of two refugees, both resettled through local Catholic Charities programs.
"Thanks to the Catholic social agency in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a soul has been lifted," the president said of Victoria, a Liberian woman assisted by Catholic Charities of Allentown.
In speaking about a Sudanese youth named Elijah, the president said that "Commonwealth Catholic Charities [in Richmond, Virginia] helped rescue him, and he found a home near Richmond. See, the faith-based program helped save this guy's life, and helped him have a bright future."
The president also signaled out the USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services as a model of a faith-based organization partnering with the government to help persons in need.
Mr. Franken and nine other faith-based leaders, including Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis/St. Paul and Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, met with the president earlier in the day to discuss a variety of issues, including assistance to refugees and the need for reforms in our country's immigration laws.
"The president was very engaged with the issues and promised his continued support for re-energizing and restoring the refugee program," Mr. Franken said.
While acknowledging with gratitude this year's improved refugee admissions levels, Mr. Franken added that much work needed to be done to ensure that refugees receive the protection they deserve, including a resettlement option. Funding should become a priority for the program, as well as the development of an overseas infrastructure to identify and process deserving refugees in need of resettlement.