The screams of children being taken from their mothers and fathers at our border, under our flag, haunts the nation. Across political and religious divides, the nation – and the world – is aghast and Americans are refusing complicity in all the ways they can. Millions of people are crying, protesting and praying in our houses of worship and in the public square. In a moment of national shame, huge swaths of people are acting in love.
The families making treacherous and often dangerous journeys to seek refuge in the US are desperate. They face extreme violence, persecution and poverty in their home countries. You cannot deter people who are fleeing for their lives, even with policies as cruel as taking children away from their parents. People who come to our borders only hope to give their children a chance. We should be meeting these people with compassion.
Christians have recoiled against the notion that ripping children from their parents – euphemistically called “family separation” – in any way comports with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth, his mother, Mary, and Joseph were refugees who fled persecution and emigrated to Egypt. Love thy neighbor is the Christian way. There is no biblical mandate or warrant for what is occurring on our borders. Christianity must never be confused with cruelty.
While the president has rightly declared families will no longer be separated at the border, he wrongly continues to promote a hurtful immigration policy greatly devoid of human compassion. Even with the new executive order, immigration officers will keep families who are legally seeking asylum in detention.
The agony of migrant parents at our border is immense. Every parent has feared the unthinkable: my child is gone. For me, it was a flash of dread in an everyday experience while shopping with my two young children in a department store. My oldest daughter wandered away and for the 10 seconds before I found her nestled between hanging clothes I felt a panic I had never before imagined.
Those remain the longest 10 seconds of my life and are seared in my memory. I can still taste the fear and I relive that sick feeling in my body remembering what it was like to be physically shaken by the fear that I had lost my daughter and would not be able to find her. Imagine those seconds multiplied by days and weeks and months.
Today, there remain thousands of children scattered in foster homes and child prison camps with no system in place for reunification. Each of these children needs our prayers, our voices of outrage and our help to reunite them with their families and heal from this terror. And the children who came before them, those who have crossed the border as children alone and some who were remanded to youth prisons that are under scrutiny for abusive practices – these children also need our intervention.
The rhetoric from our government leaders, which casts “the other” – in this case, families seeking refuge – as dangerous, inhumanely violates the Christian tradition. Selfishness is a sin. We cannot live up to our country’s ideals if we embrace only our own desires and put our needs above all others – even above God. Being a US citizen does not make us more human than people on the other side of our border.
We are in the midst of a global migration crisis, where millions of families have been separated after fleeing their homelands due to violence, conflict and persecution.
This crisis touches almost every continent in the world. The US is on track to resettle the fewest refugees since the refugee resettlement program began in 1980. God does not condone our attack on immigrants. Jesus says: “Love your neighbor.” Jesus says: “Love your enemy.” Jesus says: “Welcome the stranger.” We ask that our friends in Britain continue to pray for our country in hopes that we may continue to follow a moral compass pointing in the direction of love, compassion, goodness.
What is the Christian way to manage borders? Strength does not require cruelty. Indeed, cruelty is a response rooted in weakness. Jesus was clear about what true strength is and it always is driven by love. There may be many policy prescriptions, but the prism through which we view them should be the same: does the policy treat people with love, acknowledging our common humanity? If the answer is no, it is not a Christian solution.
Detaining and separating families – children and their parents – is not just happening at the border. Some immigrant parents and care-givers who have lived in the US for decades – and have children who are US citizens – are being rounded up and deported, leaving a trail of countless children in this country without their parents.
President Trump’s executive order has not quieted the cries of the children still separated from their parents. It has not comforted the parents still panicked because they cannot see their babies. It does nothing to stop the heartless deportations of immigrants who are longtime neighbors and members of our communities.
All of those families weep. And so we must respond to the weeping by working to help America to live out one of its core ideals, enshrined in words on the Statue of Liberty.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
The Most Rev Michael Bruce Curry is presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal church