With so much violence spilling over around the world--witness the Ukraine, Syria, Israel and Palestine, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan--it's easy to gloss over the violence which lurks behind our nation's ongoing border crisis.
In recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Unaccompanied Children, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas emphasized that "Violence perpetrated by organized transnational gangs, loosely-affiliated criminal imitators of gangs, and drug cartels, has permeated all aspects of life in Central American and is one of the primary factors driving the migration of children from the region" (p. 7). Isn't it time that we begin to address both the immediate crisis and the root causes--through both works of mercy and works of justice?
Of course, even to ask this question and raise this topic is bound to offend someone: The political polarization is so extreme; visceral reactions simmer just below the surface of apparent civility. As followers of Jesus, however, we should be willing to admit to ourselves and to others that we know what needs to be done. Here are seven starting points for more meaningful conversations about the boarder crisis:
- We need to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome the stranger (Mt 25:35), in whom we come to see Christ himself. We may find God's self-revelation disturbing and hard to live out in practice, but what part of the "Judgment of the Nations" in Matthew 25 do we not understand?
- We need to ignore the conspiracy theorists and the political opportunists who seem intent on manipulating this issue to serve their party's advantage. How can we let people reduce this situation to a "zero-sum" political game?
- We need to acknowledge that any nation's right to secure its borders is always balanced by its responsibility to welcome immigrants (we should also be honest about all the ways that our nation has benefited from the influx of Central and South American immigrants in recent years). What would happen if Catholics meditated on this passage from the Catechism: "The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin" (CCC, n. 2241)?
- We need to acknowledge that the right to immigrate must be regulated by just laws and should be balanced by the obligation of immigrants "to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens" (CCC, n. 2241). Isn't this what we have always expected of immigrants, since the founding of our nation?
- We need to ask about our society's seemingly insatiable appetite for narcotics, pornography and victims for the sex trade. Isn't it time we ask how our own dehumanizing vices and disordered views of "freedom" have contributed to the destabilization of Latin America?
- We need to shine the light of the Gospel on the other social structures which have contributed to this crisis, including our apparent addiction to cheap labor for the food and clothing industries. How do we benefit from a global market place which worships the false god of Profit, on the backs of sweat-shop labor and throw-away workers?
- We need to allow Jesus' words to echo in our hearts, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me” (Mk 9:37). How can we say we are committed to defending the dignity of the human person and yet not reach out to help these children and families in need?
We live in a time marked by increasing tribalism--be it adherents of Islamic fundamentalism or radical secularism, be it political separatists or "American exceptionalists," be it members of street gangs or of international cartels. More and more people want to impose their world view on others, and more and more are willing to justify their own violence to do so.
As Christians we need to resist this temptation. We need the courage to welcome the Other as other. After all, some day we will all ask, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?..." And some day we all hope to hear the Lord say, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:37-40).
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron of the Americas, pray for us--
P.S. Here is the latest update from the U.S. Bishops' office on Migration and Refugee Services.
P.P.S. Here are a few relevant commentaries and resources on the topic, for your consideration:
- Birmingham, Vietnam and Murrieta
- Pope Francis’ Call for Protection of Unaccompanied Child Migrants