Dear members of the Damien community:
I write to address the rapidly developing concerns about the executive order imposing new travel restrictions on refugees and other immigrants. These concerns are important. Not as political or partisan issues, but as how
they impact our teaching and community values at Damien Memorial School.
For context, the new administration issued an executive order on Friday that, among other things, suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days. The order also barred entry for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
In our home state of Hawai'i, we’re proud of our richly diverse community of immigrants. Understandably, our congressional leaders, governor, attorney general and other officials condemned the travel restrictions. I join them with this letter.
I write today because the young men and women who attend Damien’s middle and high school are watching. We teach our students to live according to their personal faith, morals and values. Our students learn history and the Constitution in the classroom, and now they watch history unfold every day.
Damien students learn Christian teachings, such as: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2). Our international consortium of educational institutions, the Edmund Rice School Network, holds advocacy and service to those "marginalized by poverty and injustice" as an essential element of its mission. At Damien, we advocate for peace, justice and global awareness. We prepare students to help create a just society that uplifts the poor and marginalized.
Our students need to know that the executive order and travel restrictions clearly run counter to our teachings at Damien. This is not how we view immigrants, refugees and those marginalized by injustice. These are not the American values our service members defend.
Fortunately, valuable lessons for our students and community emerge during these troubling times. Yesterday amid the crisis, the Pope washed the feet of refugees and served those who are most marginalized. In school, we teach speech, debate and advocacy for those affected by injustice. Now Damien students can witness the wonderful real world lessons taught in airports and other detention centers across the country. Nonprofit organizations, professionals and other caring individuals across the land acted quickly and continue to act on behalf of refugees and families impacted by the executive order. We honor these examples of 21st Century service-learning and advocacy as a tool to combat injustice.
As I said, our students are watching. At Damien, our hope is that we use these events to reinforce our Catholic teachings and community values while recognizing the lessons of service and advocacy around us.
Aloha and God bless!
Wes Reber Porter
President and CEO
Damien Memorial School