I write that headline and hear bigots cheering.
I have exerted myself online and in numerous face-to-face conversations to defend Lutheran Social Services from the absurd conspiratorial accusations that Ron Branstner and others have peddled in Aberdeen and elsewhere to stoke xenophobic anti-refugee sentiment (and I’m not even Lutheran). I am disappointed to see that Lutheran Social Services appears to be partially surrendering to that xenophobia by announcing that it will not help President Obama meet his goal of welcoming more Syrian refugees to America:
South Dakota won’t participate in the White House’s next push to increase the number of refugees escaping poverty and violence.
The director of the lone resettlement program in South Dakota said it would not participate in the federal effort, citing the debate over immigration in the state.
“There’s people that fall on both sides of this particular issue,” said Tim Jurgens, director of Lutheran Social Service’s Center for New Americans.
Jurgens said the center won’t increase its numbers, in part because it wants to be mindful of people opposed to welcoming refugees.
“We try to visit with anybody, regardless of their opinion and try to inform them of the process and collect their input,” Jurgens said [Patrick Anderson, “S.D. Won’t Help Feds Place More Refugees,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.09.15].
LSS isn’t ending refugee resettlement; it’s just holding the numbers it plans to resettle each year at 420. The step fits with the trend of PSS resettling fewer refugees in South Dakota each year since 2012 (did you notice that, complainers? 646 in 2012, down to 381 this year). Anderson reports LSS will end direct resettlement of refugees in Huron by the end of this month.
I’d like to put a bright face on LSS’s step back from its humanitarian mission (or is it more accurate to say LSS’s declining to take another step forward?) and say that we at least won’t need any more of Ron Branstner’s Klan meetings in Aberdeen. But I share the concern of a Lutheran Facebook friend who says it looks like LSS is “bowing to anti-immigrant sentiment and putting politics ahead of their faith.” Bigots may read this announcement as a signal that if they scream loud enough, they really can scare refugees and other people they don’t like away from their communities.
I can understand the possible logic behind LSS’s decision: if some South Dakotans are vocalizing their hate to such a degree that they will make newcomers feel unwelcome, why subject more of those newcomers to that hatred? Why not ease their transition to America by seeking more welcoming, Christian communities?
But I feel like we’ve lost something. Good people at LSS seem to be giving in to bad people who choose anger and lies over Christian compassion and facts. Worse, good people from lands in turmoil have lost the chance to come to South Dakota and enjoy the peace, liberty, justice, and opportunity that America supposedly promises to all.