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John StoweAugust 07, 2018
Nicole Hernandez, of the Mexican state of Guerrero, holds on to her mother as they wait with other families in Tijuana, Mexico, on June 13 to request political asylum in the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, file)Nicole Hernandez, of the Mexican state of Guerrero, holds on to her mother as they wait with other families in Tijuana, Mexico, on June 13 to request political asylum in the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, file)

As a faith leader in Kentucky, I have been truly inspired by the grassroots efforts of people who have learned what it means to “love your neighbor” and how to exercise the mercy and compassion that Jesus demonstrates throughout his earthly ministry. For example, in some of our rural communities, people of faith have been horrified to discover that neighbors could disappear overnight—into detention or deportation. They stepped up to sign power-of-attorney papers for their neighbors’ and friends’ children in case someday those parents are taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I have also been inspired by a pastor who makes it part of his daily routine to bring food and other necessities to an immigrant family whose main breadwinner has been taken into custody.

As much as I am convinced of the power of the Gospel when I see this kind of practical charity in action, I am profoundly disturbed that it is needed in our nation at this time. It is critical to humanize the issue of immigration, to introduce real people’s experiences into the public consciousness, if we want to bring about real and lasting change in the treatment of immigrants and strangers in our country.

Let us take stock of where we are. In recent months we have seen an unimaginable kind of human cruelty, a kind that has lasting repercussions for the vulnerable individuals involved, being carried out as a matter of national policy. Who would believe that in the land of the free and the home of the brave we would be so threatened by penniless, shoeless migrants who have traveled hundreds of miles to escape gangs, violence and brutal poverty?

What kind of national security requires the separation of children from their parents?

But even as we acknowledge this horror, I do not want to lose sight of what else we have seen: the great outcry that Americans do not want to be identified with cruelty, do not want to be identified as a nation that allows children to be warehoused and penned like livestock behind chain-link fences. Even a president who has trained his ears to hear only a certain portion of the population could not be shielded from the outcry.

Who would believe that in the land of the free and the home of the brave we would be so threatened by penniless, shoeless migrants?

Encountering the human faces of unjust immigration enforcement has brought about some relief—and the emphasis must be on “some.” Now we must insist that family incarceration is still the incarceration of children. We cannot allow the public to become accustomed to tent cities on military bases, asylum seekers turned away at the border, and families with or without children held in detention. Nor do we want to see the families who are escaping violence being sent back to the very places they risked everything to escape.

The “zero tolerance” approach to immigration enforcement is only the latest step in a system that has been broken for decades. Despite our nation’s need for immigrant labor—it could fairly be called an addiction—we do not have the political will to protect immigrants’ human rights, to provide protection in the workplace, to provide a pathway to legal residency. These are people who are picking our produce, building our businesses and homes, caring for our children, tending our yards, processing our poultry, and doing the difficult work that many Americans will not do and do not envision their children doing, yet we do not allow these decent and hardworking people to participate in society. They live in fear of deportation, in fear of raids, in the fear that in going to work on any given day they might be rounded up and their kids may come home to any empty house with no knowledge of where their parents were taken—as happened in two large-scale raids in northern Ohio when our attention was focused on the southern border.

The “zero tolerance” approach to immigration enforcement is only the latest step in a system that has been broken for decades.

Even the young who had no say about being brought to this country, who have only known this country as their homeland, who speak only English, who attend our schools, who work and who strive for a share in the American dream—who have taken the risk of registering with the government, trusting in the promise that they would be protected—now live in fear because we do not have the political will to do what a solid majority of the country supports, and protect the Dreamers.

Now we must say that there is a way to protect our borders from criminals, but it will not be found if we spend all of our time and resources prosecuting thousands of families escaping violence in their homelands. We must say that we, too, were once aliens in a foreign land and so we will heed the biblical admonition to “love the alien as yourself.” I hope that his fellow Methodists have shown Attorney General Jeff Sessions those verses, found throughout the Old Testament.

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For the first 15 years of my priesthood, I worked on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas. I was the pastor of a church that was established in 1680 and, because of changes in the course of the Rio Grande, has been on both sides and even in the middle of that river. I learned to be a pastor from the people on the border, where the consequences of global injustice were right in front of our eyes. People standing on one side of the river could look across to the United States and see where their daily wage was being paid as an hourly wage. When the city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, became one of the most dangerous places on earth, especially for women, the attraction of safety on the other side became even stronger.

Even in those days, the United States had a broken immigration system. El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, an area whose history was binational and multicultural, and where crossing the international boundary was a daily reality for many, became a divided community that reinforced inequality. People from the north could freely go south, but people from the south were detained when attempting to come north. The Nafta treaty allowed goods to pass freely across the border, but not the people who make and consume those goods.

The cry of the bishops on both sides of the border, then and now, is for comprehensive immigration reform that follows these principles. First, providing economic opportunities and safety in the homelands of migrants is the only lasting solution to the “problem” of immigration. In addition, the right of survival and the right to support one’s family are of a higher moral order than the nation’s rights to protect its borders (although border protection is indeed a right of nations); people who cross borders do not give up their human rights and must be treated humanely; and immigration policies and quotas need frequent revision to make it possible for those who have a genuine need to migrate to do so legally and safely.

At a recent ecumenical prayer service at a church in the city of Frankfort, Ky., we reflected on the Final Judgment scene from Matthew’s Gospel. I am afraid that in our individualized existence we in the United States fail to hear that in the opening lines of this judgment scene Christ arrives, throned in glory, to judge the nations. It is the nations that are divided like sheep from goats, depending on their treatment of Christ present in the most needy.

At the Final Judgment, it is the nations that are divided like sheep from goats, depending on their treatment of Christ present in the most needy.

When we proclaim this Gospel passage, we are committing ourselves to see Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, the brown and the black. And we are here to affirm the presence of Jesus in the outcast and exploited whose humanity has been disrespected and whose rights have been trampled. But we also need to listen very carefully to the voice of Jesus who now says:

When I picked and prepared your food, you watched me be handcuffed and loaded into a van.

When I grew the plants you will use in your yard, you allowed me to be detained far from where I lived and worked.

When I served you at table, you didn’t know that I went home in fear that I might be stopped along the way or that my spouse wouldn’t come home at all.

When I ran away from an abusive spouse, or protected my kids from gangs on our street, you turned me away from your border.

When I was 5 years old and separated from my parents, you accused me of being MS-13 or an actor.

When I sat next to you in class, you said, “Go back where you came from” and insulted my accent, my skin color, my way of being.

When I was a child and woke up crying for my mom, you did not comfort me, much less help me find her.

When I came to do the work you advertised for, you categorized me with rapists and drug dealers.

When I tried to call my precious child, you connected me to a bureaucracy with no answers.

The Son of Man, coming in glory and surrounded by angels, is seated upon his glorious throne—but that throne is a thin mattress in a tent surrounded by chain link fence.

This essay is adapted from Bishop Stowe’s address to the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) Conference on Promoting Just and Inclusive Communities in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, held in Cincinnati on July 17 and 18.

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JR Cosgrove
5 years 11 months ago

Will the editors and authors please state their immigration policy. Make it one based on reason and evidence. Any attempt at emotional appeals should be a non starter. Why? Because it is possible to frame emotional appeals to support any position one wants.

This article is one emotional appeal after the other. The bishop should be asking why Catholic countries are full of poverty and violence? Does he want all of Mexico and Central American to move here?

Anne Chapman
5 years 11 months ago

Mr. Cosgrove (or is it Ms?), it seems that America takes seriously the many biblical injunctions to "welcome the stranger".

Including taking seriously the words of Jesus himself.

They also take seriously the commands to "love thy neighbor". They take seriously the commands to care for the poor.

Is ignoring the clear commands of Jesus what you suggest as correct "policy"?

So, if you believe that the best response to the immigration challenge is to simply build a wall and ignore Jesus' words, what specific policies do you support? What policies to legal immigration would work best?

Should not all farmers in the US who need immigrants to help with planting and harvesting enjoy the same rights as the president, who has abused the visa program for his golf resort in Florida and his vineyard in Virginia? I'm sure it's totally impossible to find people with experience as maids, servers, and groundskeepers in the Miami area, and so they must be imported. Others in the agricultural sector would love to have immigrant labor on temporary visas, just as Trump does. Yet he has made it almost impossible for ordinary people to have the rights he so readily uses to benefit himself.

So, would you recommend expanding the guest worker program? Instead of reducing it, as this administration is doing?

Is it christian to support changing the asylum program to exclude those fleeing violence that is not waged by the government, but is just as deadly?

Is it christian to turn our backs on the refugees whose countries are simply unsafe, countries where they have no power against authoritarian strongmen?

Right now, someone in Latin America who wants to immigrate legally faces a many years long wait. The embassies and consulates are severely understaffed (and it's gotten much worse during the last 18 or so months) and cannot handle all the applicants in a timely manner. If someone fears for the lives of themselves or their children, they might be dead before their number comes up.

So, would you support a dramatic increase in funding for the consulates who handle immigration requests in Latin America?

What other policies might represent a christian response to the plight of the tens of millions of people who are doing everything they can to protect their families - to escape war, violence, extreme poverty?

Specifically - please describe how you would devise a christian immigration policy for those who so desperately need our help?

Who else should give it, if we pass the buck, even though we are the richest country in the world?

There may be a good samaritan out there somewhere,. But since you and others advocate turning our backs on those in desperate need, it seems that we rich people in the US are among those whom Jesus condemned in that famous parable.

Should we not, instead, live as the christians we supposedly are, followers of Christ, and become the Good Samaritans instead of being empty "religious", and "christian" in name only?

Would you suggest dramatically increasing foreign aid to the governments of Latin America? Our current administration is cutting aid - at least cutting aid for those who most need it in the world.

You have been on a real kick lately about the fact that many of the poor countries in the world were founded by "Catholics", and have majority Catholic populations.

What is your advice to the bishops you repeatedly exhort to ask themselves WHY Catholic countries are poor and full of violence?

What do you suggest they do about it? Please describe what they should do - specifically, with details.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 11 months ago

Thanks for all your comments. While the tone is very critical and assumes I don't have a solution it is useful because it raises questions that no author here addresses.

First, unauthorized entry into the country has to stop. This does not mean immigration has to cease or temporary authorized entry such as guest worker programs have to cease. You bring up guest worker programs and these should continue and probably expand as the economy needs. From what I understand this program has recently expanded. The numbers can be debated as soon as a direction is agreed to.

Second, immigration should be targeted on what is needed to help the country in general and not act as a solution to the world's problems. This probably means an emphasis on East and South Asia and some areas of Eastern Eutope. Less so on Latin America. That doesn't means ignoring problems but that US cannot solve the world's problems and open borders which is tantamount to what you are recommending is not going to help.

Third, Catholic countries have an atrocious record of taking care of their people. Yet this magazine regularly recommends something called Catholic Social Teaching which is a form of socialism. One thing is to have this magazine and Catholic clerics cease these dysfunctional recommendations. This will not change anything in these countries in any way soon but it least can start changing the attitudes that cause the problems in Catholic countries.

Fourth,This consistent mantra of not helping the poor has nothing to do with helping the poor. There are political objectives behind it. If America, the magazine, ever thought these people would vote Republican the whole tone of the debate would change. They believe the demographic changes will eliminate the Republicans and the free market system and institute a new system. Which will make more poor and exacerbate their lives.

You claim to be a free market capitalism advocate but all these efforts are to eliminate free markets. The use of "what would Jesus do?" or quoting the Bible has no thought for what is best for the people. It is meant to make one feel guilty for a political objective.

When the Bible was first written there was about 5 million people in the Middle East and the whole Roman Empire had about 25 million at the time of Christ. Movement meant something completely different and all help was individual not government sponsored. The Good Samaritan was a rarity and meant for individual action not government programs.

The poor are disappearing from the world, why not help that along as an objective?

Gadus Morhua
5 years 11 months ago

Ms Chapman, thank you for a wonderful comment and your questions to the right-wing trolls on this site. Their pathetic and dodging answers to your questions are full of the usual canards that the Church's social teaching is "socialism" and bent on destroying capitalism. Socialism is alive and well in the U.S.; it's called socialism for the wealthy and private corporations, and that is why all the income gains are increasingly concentrated at the minuscule top. The accusations against countries that are "poor, violent, and founded by "Catholics" is just more veiled racism by the pseudo-Christians. Are Latin American countries any more Catholic than Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, et.al.? Those nations have eliminated poverty, have more equitable income distributions, and provide better social safety nets for their citizens than the U.S. Oh, but I forgot...the Catholics in those countries are mostly white people, not like the brown and black ones that Bishop Stowe so eloquently asks us to look for and find Jesus in their suffering and poverty.

Robert Dowd
5 years 11 months ago

I wish I could read about the Bishops in Central America and Mexico and what they have to say about this problem on illegal immigration.Do they have any solutions and are they approaching their governments to improve these impoverished people before they trek their way to the United States.!

Thomas Farrelly
5 years 11 months ago

The contention that a few Biblical admonitions to welcome the stranger has anything to do with opening borders to mass migration is either naive or outright dishonest. You can find just about anything you want in the Bible, while ignoring whatever makes you uncomfortable. (I don't notice anyone repeating the Sodom and Gomorrah story as a guide to action today, or repeating "Dying let him die, all the multitude shall stone him" for a number of offenses. It is probable that half the populations of Mexico and Central America would move to the US if allowed to do so. Is this what America's editors and commenters like Anne Chapman are advocating? They do not respond to inquiries.

Richard Bell
5 years 11 months ago

Yes, my Lord commanded me to love my neighbor as myself. But my Lord took care that this command not be misunderstood.
Immediately after hearing the command, Jesus' interlocutor asked him who is my neighbor, and Jesus answered with the parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus identified that neighbor as one who does God's will -- who, e.g., succors the stricken innocent person.
If those people standing on one side of the river and looking across to the United States are the neighbors we should love as ourselves, they would return to the innocent victims of crime they abandoned and succor them. Instead, those people have proven themselves like the priest and the levite -- neither of whom, Jesus clearly showed, is my neighbor. Those people on the other side of the river have denied succor to the innocent victims of crime in their native countries by knowingly and willfully walking away and, if they succeed in gaining entry to the U.S., walking away forever.

JR Cosgrove
5 years 11 months ago

I go to a Latin Mass about 2-3 times a year. Their schedule of gospels is completely unrelated to the regular Mass schedule. Yesterday was the gospel of the Good Samaritan which is only in Luke's gospel. It will appear next year since we are currently in Mark's gospels. The priest gave an extremely interesting homily. Apparently there are two interpretations of the gospel. The on the surface one we well know and another one where the descent to Jericho is all down hill and a treacherous path. The man robbed was Adam and the priest and Levite represent the Old Testament and couldn't help. The Good Samaritan was Jesus spurned by most Jews but was the only one who could help. The inn was the Church.

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