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Iowa Clergy Ask Branstad to Accept Syrian Refugees

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden
Iowa faith leaders gather at the capitol to ask the governor to welcome Syrian refugees to the state.

Iowa clergy submitted a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad’s office Monday afternoon, condemning what they call discrimination against Syrian refugees “on the basis of religion," and to "reject fear and cruelty" by welcoming them to the state.

Branstad is one of 30 governors nationwide who want to block Syrian resettlement in their states, citing security in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Last week he directed state agencies not to prepare for Syrian refugee settlement. Monday, though,  Branstad said he would be open to the idea if Congress passed a bill tightening security measures. 

"We recognize that Iowans are legitimately concerned about security, but we also believe that most Americans are sincere people and we have values that we want to uphold," says Sister Jeannie Hagedorn, a member of the Humility of Mary in Davenport. "Our choice does not have to be either, or."

"Today we remember that Jesus was a refugee with his family, a Middle Eastern family fleeing persecution," says Rev. Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz, a minister Wesley United Methodist Church and Las Americas United Methodist Faith Community in Des Moines. "We call our governor, who self- identifies as Christian, to follow Christ. We call our governor to not turn away refugees, because as we all know, Iowa is welcoming." 

"To reject, to discriminate against refugees who are fleeing the Islamic State is wrong. It is not the American way, and it certainly not the way of Jesus," says Rev. Jessica Peterson, who serves Congregational United Church of Christ in Newton.

The same letter delivered to Branstad has been sent to a number of elected officials around the county and contains roughly 2,000 signatures from American faith leaders, including about 70 Iowans. The effort is being spearheaded by Faith in Public Life, a progressive, multi-denominational social justice coalition based in D.C.

Letters have also been sent to the governors of Georgia, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Faith in Public Life plans to send letters to Michigan and North Carolina’s governors in the near future.