Who are the children whose terrified faces we have seen in images from our southern border as they were literally torn from their mother’s arms? They were, yes, Mexican and Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran. But whose were they also and truly?
In the days after World Refugee Day this year, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA was clear about its care. We urged the U.S. government to ensure that people are not criminally punished for trying to seek asylum and that the rights and dignity of children and families entering the United States are respected. We affirmed that U.S. policies calling for the indefinite detention of families seeking asylum are contrary to Catholic teaching and violate the rights of asylum seekers and the dignity of children and their families. They also put at risk the long-term mental health and well-being of children and their parents.
We believe in the ability of men and women of good will to reason together on how to care for all members of their societies and above all for the most vulnerable members.
Our advocacy was based on the intrinsic dignity and inalienable value of all human beings and their equal and essential rights as members of the human family. We believe in the ability of men and women of good will to reason together on how to care for all members of their societies and above all for the most vulnerable members. We stand on the principle that commitment to the common good is the presupposition for our very right to freedom and democracy. In accord with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we see this vision as indeed the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
International law, we believe, is likewise foundational for the cooperation and common good of nations today. The right to asylum is part of that law, not a matter of occasional generosity on the part of certain host countries. It is a right embedded in the dignity of every human being to migrate from any environment where violence and oppression threaten the lives of people and their families. It is expressly stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which the United States is woefully alone among 197 nations in not endorsing) that children should not be separated from their parents, that a child seeking refugee status is entitled to protection and humanitarian assistance and that the child has a right to education. These are not partisan or “liberal” positions. They are expressions of humanity seeking to be true to itself and its future. J.R.S., as a fully international organization, places its trust and hope in reasonable men and women seeking to be part of a worldwide community for which justice and peace are not mere baselines but the conditions for comity and, ultimately, friendship without restriction.
The biblical witness speaks repeatedly of welcoming the stranger.
We have also been inspired by the converging convictions of the major faith traditions—and not least by Pope Francis, who has reminded us that “every stranger who knocks at our door in an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age” (Mt 25:35-43). Since his first visit to Lampedusa in July 2013, the pope has seen the situation of migrants and refugees as an irrefutable “sign of the times,” a signal of the Spirit that challenges and chastens all of humanity today.
Francis calls us toward an ideal of welcome, protection and promotion for migrants. But it is a practical ideal, desperately needed for a world in crisis shaped by untold violence and injustice. And he does not hesitate to call for trust in “the opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees” through their integration into new societies. His culture of encounter refuses the vision of zero-sum cultural competition and affirms instead that cultural diversity, the many families within the one family of God, is the seedbed of renewal, recreation and new birth.
The biblical witness speaks repeatedly of welcoming the stranger. And in the parable of the good Samaritan, we see that the stranger in need is our neighbor indeed. The refugee is not really “a stranger” but one of us, part of us, someone without whom we are literally less. Exclusionary rhetoric raising the specters of the dangerous, the infected and the criminal “other” is not simply a morally unacceptable characterization of migrants. It is an indictment of ourselves.
The children at the border—at any border—are not “someone else’s,” even granting, of course, the primary rights of their parents. They are our children.