Have you ever tried walking around without shoelaces? I can’t say I have ever tried it, but at the migrant center run by Catholic Charities in McAllen, TX, I have seen hundreds of migrants pass through without shoelaces. Think about a young mother trying to lead her kids across a warehouse as they clomp their way to a hot meal. It sure makes for slow and clumsy walking.
You see, the migrants’ shoelaces are removed when they are in the custody of border patrol. (It’s intended to be a safety precaution to prevent self-harm.) But even when they are released from custody and permitted to enter the U.S. to make an asylum claim, the shoelaces are not returned. I can’t make sense of it. Except to see it as a way of humiliating a person.
Jesus sends his disciples out to the world and instructs them to travel light. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” He doesn’t mention shoelaces, but I suppose that was after his time. Still, I can’t help but think about the migrants coming to our southern border when I think about the disciples being sent out “like lambs among wolves.” After all, many migrants suffer from physical or sexual violence en route, or are subjected to kidnappings where their families are extorted for thousands of dollars to secure their release. Truly, lambs among wolves.
And when they finally arrive at our border? It’s usually not a welcome reception that they find. Most are expelled immediately under Title 42, a pandemic policy that continues to dominate our border, preventing the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free from ever entering our country.
Let these be powerful reminders for how far we have to go as a country while we patriotically celebrate 4th of July weekend. And it’s not just up to our politicians or border patrol agents. We can all contribute to offering a more Christian welcome to migrants. We desperately need an end to Title 42, along with comprehensive immigration reform. Rise up and call your representatives and tell them that these issues matter to you. And keep in mind, every city in America receives migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Can you find a way to get involved locally, if you aren’t already engaged?
When the disciples didn’t find a warm welcome, they were told to shake the dust of the town off their feet. I suppose that’s easier to do when you don’t have shoelaces on. But if we want to provide a warmer welcome, true to the ideals of our country, let’s start by restoring dignity to migrants and asylum seekers. And can someone get them some shoelaces, please?
Fr. Brian Strassburger, S.J., is a Jesuit priest missioned to the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas to assist in a local parish and accompany migrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. To learn more about the work that he and Fr. Louie Hotop, S.J., are doing, check out their podcast, “The Jesuit Border Podcast,” or reach out to them at email@example.com