Media CenterCRS, Senator Cardin and other NGOs Speak Out on Refugee Ban

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Tom Price
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]
(410) 951-7450


Baltimore, MD, February 6, 2017 – Speaking at Catholic Relief Services (CRS) World Headquarters in Baltimore, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said that last week’s executive order banning refugees from seven predominately-Muslim countries, “is not in keeping with the traditions and values of our country."

“It did not make us more safe, it put us more at risk,” he said.

Cardin appeared at the Monday morning press conference on the refugee issue with Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ Vice President for Advocacy, and Nina Zelic of the Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“In many respects, the ban on the countries listed is a religious test, it is a ban on Muslims,” Cardin said. “That, of course, is against American values … we were founded on religious freedom.”

The refugee ban is now facing several legal challenges, and while a suspension of the ban was upheld by a federal appeals court this week, the future of the refugee program is uncertain.

O’Keefe noted that a few weeks ago, he was in a tent in the Kurdistan area of Iraq – which is on the list of countries whose citizens are denied entry under the executive order.

“I was with people who the night before had fled the Islamic State,” he said. “I asked a woman who was sitting there with her six or eight children why they had fled and she told me she had a daughter coming of age and was terrified she would be taken by the Islamic State and turned into a sex slave or a child bride."

“As the father of a daughter, this unspeakable horror touched me personally, as it would touch all of us who care about our children,” he said. “These are the people we see around as refugees, people who are fleeing violence … That woman was not a terrorist. She was fleeing terrorism.”

Senator Cardin (left) of Maryland and Bill O'Keefe of CRS speak at the press conference, held in Baltimore in the CRS headquarters. Photo by Philip Laubner/CRS


Zelic said that the refugee ban, “undermines our country.”

“American values are built on freedom and justice,” she said. “We have always prided ourselves on being a beacon of justice for people around the world. Stopping these refugees will have profound and detrimental consequences. Lives will be lost because of this decision.”

Noting the temporary halt to the program, Cardin said that the long-term outlook for the administration’s action is not clear. “We need to stay strong on this issue. We need to speak out. We need to do a more effective job of informing the public about what is a stake here.”

The Senator said that he had in the past week talked with the King of Jordan, the foreign minister of Germany and other foreign leaders. “They all told me the same thing, that this will make it more challenging for the United States to deal with extremists and terrorists, that ISIS will use it as a recruiting tool.”

Cardin said the current system for vetting refugees is keeping American safe. “They are vetted by the UN before we even start our vetting process,” Cardin said. “That goes on for 18 to 24 months with multiple interviews conducted by multiple agencies.”

Zelic agreed. “Refugees are the most vetted of any immigrant group entering the U.S.,” she said. “To say we do not have a robust vetting process is quite simply ignoring the facts.”

O’Keefe said that CRS recognized the need for the United States to have responsible security measures. “But those must not be built on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world,” he said. “It is very clear to us that suffering knows no religion or national boundaries."

“We have a moral obligation as Americans, part of the richest country in the world, to help these people,” he said. “We urge the government to take up that cross, to continue the proud tradition and take in the most vulnerable.” 


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, please visit or and follow CRS on social media: Facebook, @CatholicRelief@CRSnewsYouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.


Kim Pozniak

Director of Communications

Kim Pozniak
February 6, 2017

Based in Baltimore, MD

As the Director of Communications, Kim oversees the communications and social media teams working with journalists and the media to connect them with engaging stories about relief and development programs that are making a tangible difference in people’s lives around the world.

Her previous work at CRS includes handling emergency...More