Editorial: Confession, necessary penance for our inhuman immigration policies
Pictures from last month of border officers on horseback whipping helplessly Haitian asylum seekers are just the latest horrific example of the inhuman mistreatment this country inflicts on human beings seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
The 37 deportation flights the return of nearly 4,000 men, women and children to Haiti – where a recent earthquake and further political instability following the assassination of their president have only worsened the suffering of the poorest country in the world hemisphere – ironically intervened during the church’s celebration of National Migration Week.
Lord, forgive us.
When the sad story of this current wave of anti-immigrant hysteria is written, Americans won’t look much better than in previous iterations of similar nativism, from Know-Nothings to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the passing. by “Irish Need Not Apply”.
We will admit: we had hoped for better under the second Catholic president of our country.
To be fair, the new administration has had to deal with an increase in border crossings since Joe Biden took office in January, as many ailing Central Americans and others have headed north into the United States. hope for an easier and more humane system under a Democratic president.
Unfortunately, this did not happen. In July, the number of people taken into police custody or deported at the border reached a Highest in 21 years, with 212,672 people detained. (By comparison, the peak reached during the Trump presidency was 144,000 people in May 2019.)
In addition, the Biden administration not only pursued but also defended in court the law of the Trump era that allows bypassing normal immigration laws and protections to automatically deport asylum seekers, under public health coverage due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This law, called Title 42, was the justification used by the administration to expel Haitians, rather than allowing them to seek asylum. Immigration advocates say Title 42 violates U.S. asylum laws and militarizes public health.
Additionally, despite Biden’s campaign to end private prisons for the detention of migrants, his executive decree directing the Justice Department to end the use of private prisons and the prisons did not extend to those run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
And it was only after many negative reactions that the administration finally agreed to raise the refugee ceiling at 125,000, a campaign pledge that was initially broken when Biden edged up to all-time Trump-era lows.
Under Biden, the Department of Homeland Security has tried to fight the so-called “stay in Mexico” policy, in the face of court attempts to prevent the Biden administration from ending the migrant protection protocol program started under the Trump administration. And the Biden administration ended horrific child separation policies and worked to reunite separated families during the Trump years.
Fortunately, most of our church leaders – especially Pope Francis but also the American Bishops’ Conference – have come out strongly for more welcoming immigration policies. The Pope has made the reception of foreigners a cornerstone of his papacy; the fate of migrants is underlined in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, published a year ago.
More recently, a September 22 statement from Auxiliary Bishop of Washington Mario Dorsonville, chair of the Bishops Committee on Migration, and Dominican Sr. Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, criticized the treatment of Haitian asylum seekers as “a disregard for human dignity”.
“After all, it is in the face of every migrant that we see the face of Christ,” wrote Dorsonville and Markham.
But too many American Catholics don’t get the message. Although Catholics are less likely than Protestants to have unwelcoming views towards immigrants, White Catholics are more likely than Americans as a whole to have these views, according to one. PRRI survey 2020.
For example, while 57% of Americans opposed the construction of the wall on the US-Mexico border, only 43% of white Catholics opposed the wall. And while 62% of all Americans opposed legislation preventing refugees from entering the country, only 58% of white Catholics opposed it.
A smaller percentage of White Catholics (62%) than Americans overall (66%) supported a path to citizenship for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children. And white Catholics were also more likely than Americans in general to view immigrants as an economic and cultural threat, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points given the sample size.
In all of the survey questions, Hispanic Catholics had more welcoming views towards immigrants than White Catholics and Americans in general.
Fear of the other can be an understandable human tendency, amplified in times of insecurity and change. But our faith calls us to do better, and Jesus’ message could not be clearer: whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.
Our collective sins against migrants who have already suffered so much offend not only their human dignity, they are offenses against the Almighty. We should confess these sins and resolve to sin no more.