BY ISN STAFFSeptember 5, 2014

Earlier this week forty national religious leaders have delivered a succinct, one-sentence message to President Barack Obama urging him not to compromise the lives of children fleeing violence in Central America as the Administration considers its next steps on immigration.

THE MESSAGE:

While we celebrate the potential of executive action to alleviate the suffering caused by our nation’s broken immigration system – particularly in light of political inaction in Congress – it must not come at the cost of due process and access to humanitarian protection for children and families fleeing violence in Central America.

border_fence_handsSignatories of the letter included Very Rev. Timothy Kesicki, S.J., president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, Sister Simone Campbell, S.S.S., executive director of NETWORKSister Janet Mock, C.S.J., president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, as well as many other Catholic leaders and leaders of other faith traditions.   A full list of signatories and the letter can be viewed here.

Following the sending of the letter, national leaders spoke on a press teleconference to stress the urgency of their message and why the Administration must not compromise on critical protections for children in any executive actions.  The press conference audio is available here.  A few highlights from various speakers are included below.

Rev. John L. McCullough, the President and CEO of Church World Service, shared, “Our unique and diverse voices – Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Jews – are united in sending a clear message on immigration to the President: Don’t trade the lives of kids. Central American children and families are fleeing for their lives. As a father, I can’t imagine the pain and burden that parents feel as they make the difficult decision to send their children away – because they know they will be safer on the journey despite how dangerous it is.”

Sister Simone Campbell, S.S.S., the Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, shared, “Given the failure of Congress, we have a broken immigration system that needs to be addressed as much as possible administratively, but we shouldn’t make trade-offs. These are two different realities: refugees fleeing for their lives and the undocumented in our nation who are contributing to our society. Both need to be protected. Both need the President’s action. The best would be for Congress to act, but absent this, the President needs to provide the leadership.”

Rev. Jim Wallis, the President of Sojourners, shared, “Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Children should be the metric of our politics and they haven’t been in an immigration debate that has become increasingly politicized. President Obama knows that in God’s eyes borders matter much less than children. Changing laws that enjoy bipartisan support and have proven effective in protecting kids being trafficked is something that cannot be tolerated.”

Shaina Aber, Policy Director for the U.S. Jesuit Conference, shared, “The reason the faith community is particularly concerned about negative action from the Administration is because President Obama’s first intervention in this policy debate was to ask Congress in June to roll back critical protections for unaccompanied children. We’re already seeing kids put on ‘rocket dockets,’ expanded family detention, and other actions that undermine due process. These kids are not a problem to solve, but have been entrusted to our care to be protected.”

Nancy Kaufman, the CEO, of the National Council of Jewish Women, shared, “As people with a long history of being rejected in times of crisis from many lands, we know how devastating such rejection can be. When the doors of almost every country (including the US) were closed to us in the 1940s we lost millions of our people. The most vivid reminder of that time was when hundreds of people on the St. Louis ship were turned away from our shores and sent back to Europe where the result was certain death. Every Passover we tell the story of liberation and remember when we were strangers in a strange land. This history and our biblical mandate to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry makes us forceful advocates for assisting children and families at the border.”

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), shared, “A detention center is no place for a child. As a nation, we have historically protected and offered due process to children who have endured such horrific conditions, and have united them with family members to promote healing as they await the opportunity for a judge to hear their case and story.”

Melanie Nezer, the VP of Advocacy and Policy for HIAS, shared, “There is no reason our government cannot come up with a process that ensures that children who arrive at our borders receive proper care and are not returned to countries where they face the risk of serious harm. In dealing with the surge of migrants at our border, we call on our leaders to respect the core American values that people should not be returned to countries where they face persecution, children should be protected, and families should be together.”

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