BY SCOTT WRIGHT | July 11, 2014
A Church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed – what Gospel is that? – Archbishop Oscar Romero
There is a refugee crisis on the US-Mexico border, and a war in Central America and Mexico against children. It is being waged by gangs and drug cartels, corrupt police and corrupt government officials complicit with these non-state actors or governments unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations to protect children from the violence directed against them.
Children as young as two and their families are making a perilous journey north, fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and seeking to reunite with their families in the United States. The numbers may approach 90,000 this year, and even more in the year to come, and they are fleeing from the countries with the highest murder rates in the world.
There is clearly a moral crisis in our nation, as Congress refuses to pass comprehensive immigration reform and President Obama asks Congress for more money for border enforcement and a change in the law that protects unaccompanied children so that he can expedite their deportation without judicial review.
Above all, there is also a spiritual crisis in the nation. Undocumented children have become the new scapegoats. Communities of faith, on the other hand, have been among the first responders offering these families and children shelter, and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. Now we are being asked to take a stronger stand on immigration, and those who are asking are the children who are fleeing the furnace of violence in their home countries and crossing the border to reunite with their families.
The bottom line is: do not sacrifice these children on the altar of a broken immigration system, political expediency, and the lack of moral courage. Do not deport these children. Protect them. Help them reunite with their families. Welcome the stranger. Welcome the children. Fix the broken immigration system so that families may reunite with their children who are at risk. But don’t sacrifice the children, and don’t pretend we are doing them a favor by deporting them back to the violence they are fleeing. Isn’t that what the Gospel asks of us in this moment? And isn’t that what the heroes of our faith ask of us as well?
“The great need today is for Christians who are active and critical, who don’t accept situations without analyzing them inwardly and deeply. We no longer want masses of people like those who have been trifled with for so long. We want persons like fruitful fig trees, who can say yes to justice and no to injustice and can make use of the precious gift of life, regardless of the circumstances.” – Archbishop Oscar Romero
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular – but one must take it simply because it is right. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are many reasons for this crisis, and they have political and economic roots going back decades and generations: support for military governments, free trade agreements that undercut local farmers leading to more poverty and increased migration, a military coup in Honduras, and the violence of corrupt police, drug cartels and youth gangs.
Every day an immigrant dies in the Arizona desert, and 1,100 immigrants are deported. Every day 34,000 immigrants are detained to fill a bed quota, many in for profit prisons, awaiting deportation. Every year, for the past several years, on both President Bush’s and President Obama’s watch, 400,000 immigrants are deported.
Immigrant-led movements, such as Fast4Families, targeted Republicans in Congress and called for comprehensive immigration reform, fasting for weeks on the National Mall last December. The National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) joined with faith communities and led protests across the nation last spring calling on President Obama to stop the deportations that were dividing immigrant families. The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) brought together African Americans from the Birmingham children’s march fifty years ago with the children of undocumented immigrants today who took their message to the White House in late spring and were arrested, calling on the conscience of the nation to do more.
Our immigration system is broken, and there is plenty of blame to spread around. Congress has failed to act, but so has President Obama. His strategy of reinforcing the US-Mexico border did not produce a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented in the country. Now he proposes to send more money to enforce the border and speed up administrative action to process and eventually deport the children.
Our message as people of faith must be unequivocal: do not deport the children. Protect them, offer them temporary protective or refugee status, and protect their families. Address the roots of the crisis in Central America and failed U.S. policies on immigration. Don’t blame the children. Press Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Take administrative action to end the deportations of immigrants until Congress acts. But don’t deport the children.
Thirty-five years ago, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, in the midst of a difficult and bloody civil war, reminds us that something more is at stake here than politics:
“Nothing is so important to the church as human life, as the human person, above all, the person of the poor and the oppressed. Besides being human beings, they are also divine beings, since Jesus said that whatever is done to them he takes as done to him. That bloodshed, those deaths, are beyond all politics. They touch the very heart of God.”
Scott Wright is the director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach an office of the U.S. headquarters for the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Washington, D.C.