Suffering at the border betrays U.S. values

December 18, 2018

At the heart of the Christmas story is a family — Joseph, Mary and Jesus — who cannot find shelter. They are forced to rest in a stable, where Mary gives birth to her son. Later, the family is said to have fled to Egypt to escape violence, refugees in every sense of the word.

Yet today we see families similarly seeking shelter being rounded up at the border. They might be given a place to sleep after being arrested, but certainly their treatment lacks kindness and compassion. Not enough care is being taken for their physical well-being, either, as numerous reports have revealed.

Last week, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, who walked with her father from Guatemala, died in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. We cannot say whether her health had deteriorated so much at the time of her arrest that death was inevitable or whether a lack of medical and other care contributed to her loss of life. Before speculating, we should wait for autopsy results.

What we can say, however, is that the current immigration policy from the Trump administration is both cruel and unreasonable. It flies in the face of Christian teaching by those who proclaim themselves to be Christian. More than any religious doctrine, though, this policy toward immigrants — whether those attempting to come here or those already here — goes against what it means to be human. It is beyond a disgrace.

As we have stated before, all nations need to be able to control who crosses their borders. Security does matter. Open-border enthusiasts in the United States are few and far between.

But having a secure border does not require a $5 billion border wall — or a government shutdown over funding that wall, as appears possible this week. Nor does it require the presence of National Guard troops for months at a time. It does not require separating children from parents. It does not require keeping people in detention who have family members who will sponsor them. It does not require an agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that operates with a lack of care for the humanity of the people it meets along the way.

Security on the border does not equal cruelty. Or it should not.

The United States does need Border Patrol agents who operate with efficiency and compassion. It does need a foreign policy that recognizes how our actions created pockets of chaos and violence in Central America, the very reason refugees are walking through Mexico in hopes of reaching safety here. The U.S. does need to reform its immigration system so that people who want to move here have a path that is fair, reasonable and accessible.

Even if migrants are to be arrested, they can be greeted with water, blankets and interpreters. Many of the Central American migrants speak indigenous languages — they might be able to communicate in Spanish, but it is not their first tongue. To make decisions in the desert based on English forms, translated by interpreters into Spanish, signed off by people whose first language is not Spanish, makes little sense. What’s more, the Trump administration has closed ports of entries off and on, making it difficult for the refugees to ask for asylum — which is legally their right.

The late 7-year-old and her father were part of a group of 163 migrants who turned themselves into the Border Patrol south of Lordsburg — that’s right, Jakelin was taken into custody in New Mexico. It is our tragedy, too. More than eight hours later, Jakelin began having seizures and later died at an El Paso hospital. Her temperature was recorded at 105.7 degrees.

Whether she died because of the journey, lack of care in custody or other reason, we don’t yet know. However, we do know that conditions for the refugees in detention are bleak. That can change, and it must. To accept the current situation betrays this nation’s values and beliefs. Perhaps this holiday season, President Donald Trump should take time away from his resorts and visit a detention center.

Shame on the Trump administration. And shame on us, if we citizens allow it to continue.

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