Father James Martin: Stop the assault on asylum seekers
Yesterday the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency fired tear gas at migrants trying to seek asylum in the United States at the border crossing at Tijuana. How did our country reach the point where we are tear-gassing mothers and children? One reason is because of the widespread myths about these brothers and sisters of ours.
Myth One: They are “illegals.” First, no one is an “illegal person” and seeking asylum is widely recognized as a universal human right. Current international agreements about asylum stemmed from a desire not to repeat the fate of Jews during the Second World War, who were denied entrance to many countries. And one requirement for asylum is to be physically present in the United States, which is exactly what these men, women and children from Central America are trying to do. In fact, it is illegal to dismiss asylum seekers without hearing their cases. In other words, they are trying to follow both international and U.S. law.
Myth Two: We cannot afford them. Many people believe that the United States and many European countries shelter a huge amount of refugees. This is false. The majority of the world’s refugees live in poor or middle-income nations. Eight out of 10 of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries. In 2016, for example, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon hosted the highest number of refugees, a combined total of 5.4 million refugees. Of the 15 million refugees worldwide, 86 percent reside in developing countries. By contrast, the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, is allowing only 30,000 refugees in next year. We can afford it.
Myth Three: They are mainly criminals. Claims that these migrants are criminals, that this exodus harbors terrorists from the Middle East, are unfounded. Are there a few criminals somehow mixed in? No more than with any other group in the past and that would include the immigrants that came to this country in the last 200 years: Italians, Irish, Germans and on and on. People fleeing Honduras, for example, who are mainly women and children, face some of the worst violence, inequality and corruption in the world: criminal gangs, rape and persecution, on top of poverty. There is a reason that they are risking everything to come here. They are fleeing crime, not bringing it. So before you dismiss these people as illegals, as too expensive and as criminals, know the facts. And even if you want to dismiss these facts, remember what Jesus said about welcoming the stranger. He did not say welcome them when they had the right papers. He did not say welcome them when there was zero risk. He did not say welcome them when you could afford it. Jesus said, welcome them.