Immigration, Families, and Jesus
Immigration and asylum are tough issues, and there is a lot of disagreement. But there are some things that all Christians should agree on. A woman described in legal papers as “Ms. L.” arrived in San Diego from the Congo with her seven-year-old daughter, identified only as “S.” “Ms. L” presented herself and her daughter to immigration officials and then requested asylum. Why was she fleeing her country? Because Catholics such as herself, “have organized large public demonstrations over the past year against the country’s president,” and, in turn, “some protesters have been killed by government security forces.” Under American law, anyone requesting asylum must prove that “he or she has suffered past persecution or (that) he or she has a well-founded fear of future persecution.” Until 2014, most asylum seekers were paroled into the community. The potential downside to this approach of course, is that these folks just might disappear. So the Obama administration, despite international criticism, began to hold asylum seekers in detention centers while their applications were being reviewed. The Trump administration has continued this practice, but with an added, extra wrinkle. Which brings me back to “Ms. L.” and her daughter, “S.” “Several days after she passed a screening interview, officials took her daughter from her,” and sent “S.” to a facility in Chicago, while her mother remained in San Diego. As “Ms. L.” maintains, no justification, no hearing was offered before authorities forcefully separated her child from her. Since then, “S.’ has spoken, by which I mean “cried,” to her mother on the phone a half-dozen times. While no justification was given at the time of the separation, the separation wasn’t arbitrary. No, it was the result of a deliberate policy. For the past year, officials at the Department of Homeland Security have weighed separating detained families as a means to discourage migrants from entering the country. The proposal was to keep the adults in federal custody while placing the children in HHS-run shelters. While the policy hasn’t been formally announced, it does appear to be in effect. Now, reasonable people can disagree about contentious issues like immigration, or the number of asylum seekers we admit and under what criteria we grant asylum. But what we can all agree on is that separating a seven-year-old child from her mother is cruel, unless the child is in some danger. This is true regardless of the merits or status of the mother’s application for asylum. Visiting the sins, real or perceived, of parents on their children is beneath a decent society. Christians should be especially outraged at this injustice. We proclaim the centrality of family and invoke the idea of sphere sovereignty to protect its healthy functioning. We reject the idea that the ends justify the means. And we reject consequentialism, the idea that “the morality of an action is judged solely by its consequences.” Paul calls the accusation that Christians say, “why not do evil that good may come?” a “slander.” Our Lord told us that among the defining characteristics of those who will inherit the kingdom of God is that, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” We can and must debate what “taking in” requires on a national level. But at the very least it requires speaking up against forcibly separating families. Happily, at least in this case, the ACLU sued Homeland Security, and ICE backed down partway, releasing “Ms. L.” But her daughter still remains in custody. American Christians have a unique responsibility and ability to speak up. As citizens with a voice, we’re in a position to do something about it. And so we should. If we don’t, our failure will allow this mistreatment to continue. It will shock other people’s consciences. And, ultimately, it will discredit the Gospel.