From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Partners find safe haven for refugees

From George Conklin <>
Date 13 May 1996 22:56:03

ELCA News Service

May 13, 1996


     ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- (ELCA) When refugees
escape danger in their homelands and come to resettle in
the United States, chances are good they will meet at least
one of the 230 people who met May 1-4 in suburban
Washington, D.C.  "Giving Voice: Partners in Ministry,"
was the first conference to bring together directors from
three of the major church agencies that resettle refugees
around the country.
     Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is
already a joint ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America, Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  This
conference signaled that it is now intentionally working
with Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and with the
Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World
Service (IRP/CWS), the humanitarian relief development
arm of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the
     "This is a reflection of growing collaboration among our
three agencies," said Ralston H. Deffenbaugh Jr., LIRS
executive director.  For the ELCA this "dovetails very
nicely with some of the ecumenical votes to be taken in
1997," he added, referring to decisions Lutheran,
Episcopal and Reformed churches plan to make regarding
full recognition of each others ministries.
     "We've found in our practical work of refugee
resettlement that we've been collaborating ecumenically,"
said Deffenbaugh.  "The meeting showed that the three
networks have a lot in common in our style of work, our
emphasis on church and congregational involvement, and
the theological basis for our work."
     "For me the joint national conference is a very powerful
expression of our mission and of our ministry, and one that
is probably more powerful than if we were expressing it
separately," said C. Richard Parkins, EMM director.
     "There has already been a blending of responsibility
and function at the local and community level," said
Parkins.  "Episcopal Migration Ministries shares three or
four sites with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
and probably 13 or 14 sites with Church World Service,
and some of those sites represent all three of the national
     "We've been working at the national level to bring our
agencies into a closer working relationship," said Elizabeth
G. Ferris, IRP/CWS director.  "What we saw here was
that people working at the grass roots have so much in
common that they are working together in new and
creative ways already."
     "The three agencies working together are able to pull in
higher level government officials and to have much more of
an impact in the Capitol," she added.
     The group visited Capitol Hill on May 2, the same day
the U.S. Senate passed 97-3 the Immigration Control and
Financial Responsibility Act of 1996.  The measure is
similar to one the U.S. House passed in March, and a
congressional committee must iron out any differences.
     Frank Sharry, executive director, National Immigration
Forum, briefed the resettlement directors before they
visited congressional offices.  They discussed "summary
exclusion" of certain refugees seeking asylum in the United
States, budgeting for refugee assistance and a move to bar
undocumented children from public education.
     "We want to close the back door on illegal immigration,
so we can keep the front door of legal immigration open,"
said Assistant Secretary of State Phyllis E. Oakley, head
of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
     "The United States remains the world leader in
resettling," she said.  "We resettle half of the world's
resettled refugees."
     "I am just so impressed with what the religious
organizations do for refugee resettlement," Oakley said.
"It couldn't be a better way for people to be introduced to
this country."
     "My own mother-in-law, through her church in
Shreveport, La., helped resettle a Vietnamese family, and
they've meant a great deal to us through the years," she
     "Most Americans are our allies," Roger Winter told the
conference.  Winter is executive director of Immigration
and Refugee Services of America and director of the U.S.
Committee for Refugees.  "Many are our potential allies,"
he said, because they don't yet know the facts about
     Winter had a positive message for resettlement
directors who might feel they're fighting a losing battle.
"We have won some big battles," he said.  "We have
saved a lot of lives."
     "When faced with a human being or with a family, that
has gone through crisis, terror or torture, the American
people have always responded," said Lavinia Limon,
director, Office of Refugee Resettlement, U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services.
     "The churches have a certain unique ability to reach into
people's hearts and help them find a way to express their
solidarity with other human beings and their willingness to
help people build a new life in America," she said.  "They
need to take credit for that, to let other people know that it
was really a partnership between the refugees and the
church that made that happen."
     Resettlement must be coupled with political advocacy,
said Anne Willem Bijleveld, the United Nations High
Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) representative to the
United States.  If U.S. laws become more restrictive, other
nations' laws will probably conform.  "The United States
has always been a leading country to defend the rights of
refugees," he said.  "Other countries will follow your lead
in the positive sense, and they will follow your lead in the
negative sense."
     "It is very important for us, together with the church
organizations and non-governmental organizations, to
work together to get the message of what UNHCR and
the church stands for to every corner of the country," said
     LIRS, IRP/CWS and EMM have met regularly on their
own for years, but this is the first time they've held a joint
national conference.  "Frankly, it makes sense for us to
have joint conferences, because it saves a lot of money,"
Ferris added.
     The conference offered 16 workshops on topics
including refugee women and their integration into society,
employment outcomes and more effective use of the
     The three agencies will probably continue to hold joint
conferences.  "I don't think we could consider it not
happening again, it's been such an overwhelmingly good
experience for all of us," said Parkins.

                             -- 30 --

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