Saturday, November 8, 2014

Wyoming: All alone again

There’s a map of the United States on the US Office of Refugee Settlement website. ( It shows 49 of the 50 states have agreements with the federal office to assist in relocating refugees.

Not only blue states like California and Oregon but red states as well. Utah and all states surrounding Wyoming, as well as Texas, Arizona, Mississippi. Every state except Wyoming.

One might conclude Wyoming is the only state that understands the issue. If you attended the rally of Citizens to Protect Wyoming last Saturday at the Capitol Building, you’d know that’s not the case.

Not many showed up to protest against Wyoming signing on. There were more counter-protesters urging the governor to make it even 50 states.

As is the case with far-right fear mongering, the per capita use of falsehoods to was quite high. Some of the anti-refugee protesters wore surgical masks with “Ebola” imprinted on them. It’s hard to blame them for being afraid when it’s virtually all they hear on radio talk shows.

Marc Thiessen, a right-wing commentator, described a scenario in which “suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place – say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta – spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids.”

Many of Saturday’s protesters connected Ebola to their disdain for foreigners. A fringe-party candidate for Secretary of State said that if the governor allows refugees to enter Wyoming, judges would allow them and their many wives to receive welfare benefits, bankrupting the state.

These neo-isolationists spent more time denouncing Wyoming’s Republican congressional delegation and our Republican governor than criticizing Barack Obama. By far the most time was expended espousing untruths.

They conflated feelings about undocumented workers with the altogether different question of refugees. There’s a critical policy difference, one that should lead people of faith to a compassionate approach. Refugees are not in the United States illegally.

The story of these refugees is as old as the Old Testament story of the Exodus. The Citizen to Protect Wyoming aligned themselves with Pharaoh, not Moses.

Refugees are men, women, and children who cannot return to their home country because of documented threats to their safety and their lives. Their governments are either unable or unwilling to protect them. Importantly, they cannot receive refugees’ status unless these facts are demonstrated and they pass a health and background check.

Refugees are in every state now, not just those 49 states that have agreements for assistance with the federal government. A handful of protesters gathering around the Capitol Building cannot change that.

As a friend of mine pointed out, one of the great ironies of the day was to see these anti-refugee protesters gathered at the base of the statue of Chief Washakie. Other than him, there was no one there that day on either side of the street that could claim native status. Chief Washakie should be the only one questioning whether allowing foreigners into Wyoming is a good idea. The rest of us lost that right when we intruded.

Yet there was one greater irony. Charlie Hardy was invited to speak at the gathering. Odd, because Charlie was a Democratic candidate for the US Senate whose parents emigrated here from Austria. Odd as well because Charlie, a former priest, knows the Bible. And so he used his time to read scripture, specifically Matthew 25.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

The reaction? Silence. The protesters didn’t hear Jesus’ words. They just loved that a candidate for public office read the Bible. Like too many people, what matters was the Bible and not what it says, things such as “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 

1 comment:

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