This past Friday, June 1st, was a National Day of Action for Children- a day of protest, organizing, and action against the inhumane separation of children and their parents at their border.
In light of a new “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which accelerates the separations of children and their parents at the border, many are drawing attention to the inhumane and unjust treatment of migrating families seeking asylum- particularly those who are seeking refuge from violence, terror, and hostile situations. Even the United Nations has condemned these policies, and called the detaining of children who have not committed a crime both illegal and a violation of human rights.
Immigration officials told Congress on May 23, that more than 650 migrant children were separated from their parents during a 10-day period in May. Moreover, the number of prosecutions of illegal border crossings have spiked in recent months, with roughly 60 percent more unlawful entry prosecutions in April than in January.
Due to these prosecutions, families seeking asylum in the U.S. are being separated from their parents. Their parents are being detained for illegal entry and prosecuted in mass trials, with up to 40 defendants at a time. Some of them are being deported. And their children are being placed in government-contracted shelters, military bases, and even former Walmartsthat are being turned into shelters. These children are being designated as ‘Unaccompanied minors,” and forced to wait reunification with family members. They will only be able to reunite with their family or sponsors if they choose to be fingerprinted.
All of this is happening, when research shows that such prosecutions do not actually deter border crossings, but instead redirect migration flows towards more dangerous alternative routes.
As a mother to an almost 11-month old baby, I imagine what it would feel like to be separated from my baby and detained, as punishment for simply trying to keep my family alive. I imagine living in a situation that feels violent, unstable, and unlivable for my family, and to choose to sacrifice my homeland because those costs seem worth my baby’s survival. I imagine losing my home, my friends, my family, my language, comfort and familiarity, as I seek refuge in a new place.
And then I imagine my baby being torn from me at a border, not knowing where she will end up or if I will see her again. I imagine being locked up and detained, not knowing when I will be released or what will happen to me. I imagine my baby being in a shelter, or in a foster home, distressed and panicked because she doesn’t know what’s going on -surrounded by strange people, unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells.
And as I imagine this scenario, I can’t help but mourn.
No child should grow up without their parent(s). No person should be punished for seeking asylum. No parent should be considered a criminal for trying to keep their child alive. No family should endure such painful and terrifying separation.
As a Christian, hearing about these stories also reminds me of what Jesus, Mary, and Joseph went through when Jesus was a young child. It reminds me that Mary and Joseph were parents who fled their homes to keep their son alive in the face of violence- that they fled political instability, genocide, and ethnic and religious persecution, just like many of these families at the border today. It reminds me that Jesus’ family lived as refugees in Egypt, and that even after Herod died, they lived as displaced persons in Nazareth of Galilee, a long way from their original home in Bethlehem. I am reminded that the fear, jealousy, and arrogance of leaders like Trump or even Sessions is not a new phenomena, and that policies that bring about violence to the most vulnerable among us, is also not new.
Jesus is no stranger to the pain of these families. And the truth is, in the manner of Matthew 25, when we welcome these families, we welcome Jesus. And when we separate, prosecute, and traumatize these families, we do the same to Jesus.
So what do we do when evangelicals are the group least likely to accept refugees? What do we do when these policies are enacted by self-professing Christians, even those who hypocritically say they want to protect family values? How do we choose resistance against these practices? How do we fight to keep families together?
I don’t have answers to these questions. I really wish I did. But a few first steps for the First Pres community:
I would love to invite folks to take a first step by signing this petition, to demand the Trump administration to end policies that separate families. This is a way to use our political voice and agency to speak out against these unjust and inhumane policies.
I would also love anybody who’s interested to join me in a 4–week summer study of the book “A Better Country: Embracing the Refugees in Our Midst,” which will be happening from mid-July to early August on Monday nights. Meetings will be from 7–9pm at the church, in Holy Grounds. This will be a chance for us to learn, to pray, and to discern together what God might be calling us to do so please contact me if you’re interested.
And finally, I would love any folks in our church community who are interested in serving the over 350 unaccompanied minors in the Hayward Unified School District with some material resources, to let me know. We have a chance, in the upcoming months, to create backpacks with school supplies for these children in our community, as well as to create care packages with toiletries, snacks, and other basic necessities for them. In the winter, we will also have a chance to run a winter coat drive for some of these youth.
Please, continue to learn these stories. Please continue to pray. Please continue to respond faithfully to what God calls you to.
Families belong together. Lord, have mercy.