APPLETON – Immigration is almost always seen as a political issue, but Matthew Soerens is trying to change that.
Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, a faith-based humanitarian organization that resettles refugee families and offers services to immigrants. The organization has about 20 offices in the U.S., including in Appleton.
“One of our goals is to remind people that it’s also a biblical issue. We’re coming at this, obviously, from a faith perspective,” said Soerens, who gave a presentation on the topic Wednesday night at Refuge Church in Appleton.
That perspective means standing up for anyone who finds themselves in a vulnerable position, including immigrants and refugees, Soerens said.
“The neighbor who we are called to love could be just about anyone,” he said.
Soerens said it’s not unusual for people to worry whether it’s safe to allow refugees in the country, even if they understand the terrible situations many are fleeing.
“There are these competing emotions of compassion on one hand and fear on another,’ he said.
And the politics that often dominate the issue has made the role World Relief tries to play more challenging. And that’s not likely to change any time soon.
On Monday, the Trump administration announced it would be limiting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. to 30,000, down from a 45,000-person limit set last year — already the lowest since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980.
“We don’t think that’s a good decision,” Soerens said.
The limit had been as high as 110,000 as recently as two years ago, Soerens said.
“It’s a pretty dramatic reduction,” he said. “That will have impacts locally for sure, as well as throughout the country.”
Soerens, 34, grew up in Neenah and was impressed by the work World Relief has done in the Fox Valley. His parents still live in Neenah and were in the audience for his presentation Wednesday night.
“It’s neat to see the community I grew up in welcoming refugees and other immigrants,” he said.
World Relief Fox Valley had worked out of a main office in Oshkosh since 2012 but moved to a new location at 510 E. Wisconsin Ave. in Appleton earlier this year.
World Relief Fox Valley provides housing, food, transportation, clothes and other needed items for refugees that are vetted through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program by partnering with local churches and volunteers.
Soerens hoped his presentation would help people step back from the politics of the issue and look at it from a different perspective. But for an even more in-depth perspective, Soerens suggested people volunteer to work with a refugee family who came to the area with help from the organization.
“When you know someone and this is a personal issue, it starts to melt away some of the stereotypes sometimes people have,” he said.
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