Holy Innocents

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.

 

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Immigration in the US and the world

Immigration issues have been in the news in the United States for the last several years. The current system is outdated and cumbersome and the last several presidents and some prominent members of Congress have worked on comprehensive reform packages.  In the summer of 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan majority, but the House refused to take it up and the rhetoric against reform has escalated.

Some of the Republican presidential candidates have been trying to outdo each other in their vehemence against undocumented immigrants, even going so far as to threaten denying birthright citizenship to babies born in the United States. There are also proposals to build walls on both the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, disregarding the fact that many currently undocumented people reached the US by air or were documented at the time of their arrival or were trafficked into the country or are refugees.

The real solution lies in comprehensive immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship for those who want to remain permanently and work visas for those who want to stay only for a limited amount of time. There also needs to be a better process for applying for visas that takes human needs into account, such as family unity and protection from violence and persecution. Why should someone fleeing Cuba be admitted while someone fleeing more dangerous conditions in El Salvador is not?

Adding to the picture is the current crisis in Europe regarding refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq and other unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa. Desperate people are taking to overcrowded and dangerous boats and rafts or are traveling overland to try to reach safety in Europe. While some countries, especially Germany, are being welcoming, others, such as Hungary, are denying safe transit through their countries.

It’s horrifying.

Part of my upbringing as a Christian is that one should welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and treat every person with respect.  I live in a country where the the vast majority of the population either are immigrants or their descendants and which often touts the strengths that our diversity lends to our democracy. (I also know our history and that our country has behaved unconscionably in dealing with the First Nations, those who were trafficked or enslaved, and various ethnic groups, including the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during world War II. None of this negates our current responsibilities toward those in need of refuge.)

I believe that all the nations need to work together to relieve the suffering of those displaced by violence and economic disruption. Some may be looking for permanent re-settlement in a new country, while others may need a safe place for a few years in hope that they can return to their country of origin. The United States, as one of the richest countries in the world, needs to do its part to help, accepting many more than the 10,000 places offered if more refugees wish to live here and offering financial and logistical aid to help in caring for refugees while they are being processed to go to their final destinations.

I know that many will argue that we can’t afford it, but we can. It’s all a matter of priorities. The United States spends huge amounts of money on our military, including weaponry and equipment that the military leaders don’t want or need. Billions more dollars could be spent on human needs programs both at home and abroad if military spending is brought in line with what is truly needed rather than what is embarked upon due to fear or pork-barrel politics. The tax code also is in need of major revision, re-instituting a more progressive tax system for both individuals and corporations, closing loopholes, eliminating tax havens, lowering taxes on the lower earners and increasing rates for high earners.

There is a lot to do. Enough with the grandstanding and fear-mongering. It’s time to get to work to address immigration in a comprehensive way.