Faith-based refugee resettlement groups sue federal government

Three faith-based groups that assist with refugee resettlement are suing the federal government, arguing a September executive order granting state and local officials the authority to block refugee resettlement violates federal law and inhibits their ability to practice their faith.

The order calls for resettlement of refugees “only in those jurisdictions in which both the state and local governments” have consented to accept them in writing.

HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Church World Service (CWS) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) filed the suit Nov. 21 alleging the order violates existing law that leaves decision-making power about where to place refugees with the federal government and does not allow state and local governments to have veto power. 

The complaint also asserts the order doesn’t clarify which local authorities would need to sign off to allow refugees in their area and that it could inhibit the reunification of refugee families.

The faith leaders characterized the new policy as a blow to a decades-old refugee resettlement apparatus in the U.S. that relies heavily on religious groups. Six of the nine organizations that partner with the federal government to help resettle refugees are faith-based, including HIAS, CWS and LIRS. 

In recent years the annual number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the U.S. has drastically decreased. The limit in 2020 has been set at just 18,000 — a historic low. 

Erol Kekic of CWS said the order would prevent local religious groups “from fulfilling their faith calling and missions to ‘welcome the stranger.’” (Religion News Service)