On December 28th, the Catholic Church commemorates the Holy Innocents, the very young children who were killed by order of King Herod in an attempt to eliminate the threat posed by the birth of Jesus.
Today in the United States, I am mourning the death of two children who fled here with a parent, seeking safety and protection, but who died while detained by Customs and Border Protection.
The government is trying to blame the parents for bringing their children here, but these people were living in desperation and danger in Guatemala. They would not have risked coming to the United States if there had been any safe option in their home country. International and domestic law, as well as human decency, call on us to protect the vulnerable; the current administration has failed miserably and, when challenged in court and among the citizenry, has said that it will fix things, but then declared a new policy that violates those same laws in a slightly different way. (And for those who are grumbling that those seeking asylum need to enter the country through legal ports of entry, both US and international law recognize the right to ask for asylum without regard to means of entry. Also, the current administration has made it nearly impossible to enter through the legal ports of entry, which further endangers the already vulnerable.)
I am also remembering the many thousands of children and teens who have been separated from their families and placed in custody. While I am grateful that some have been reunited with family, others are still in detention. All of these children and young people will have life-long scars from the trauma of separation, sometimes without even having access to someone who speaks their language. Somehow, the US government assumes that all Central and South Americans speak Spanish, but many of the current asylum speakers come from remote areas where they speak an indigenous language, not Spanish. Imagine how terrifying it is to be separated from your family in a strange place where you can’t understand anything that is said to you.
I am grateful for the many volunteers who have come forward to help the migrants, offering material and legal aid, and for the millions who give to organizations that are helping to support these people and battle in court on their behalf.
There are also many people and organizations trying to get legal solutions in place. Several years ago, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill; although the House would likely have passed it as well, the Republican leadership would not put it up for a vote. Perhaps, with Democrats set to take over the majority in the House in January, there can be comprehensive immigration reform passed by both houses of Congress. Admittedly, it might have to pass by large margins, in case the president vetoes it, but I’m hoping that at least some reforms can be put in place.
The current situation must be resolved in a caring and positive way. I pray for strength, wisdom, and perseverance in this struggle for human dignity and decency.