Over the course of the past couple of weeks, the hashtags #WhereAreTheChildren and #FamiliesBelongTogether have been shared all over social media. What is the story behind this, and how are we called to respond?
The Story Behind the Hashtag
The hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren originated from stories that refugee children from Central America — who had been detained at the border — later went missing or whose families couldn’t be contacted. Added fuel to the outrage was the recent policy of illegal immigrants being separated from their children at the border (and many never being reunited). (This tragic situation sparked another hashtag: #FamiliesBelongTogether.) The policy put forth by the Trump administration was meant to deter people from attempting to cross the border illegally. This article lays out the full story.
Although the President recently signed an executive order, calling for an end to separation of families, this executive order will still not completely solve the problem. Children who have been already separated from their detained parents will likely remain in children’s shelters. They may never be reunited, or they may suffer from a prolonged separation. Irreparable damage has already been done. Furthermore, the new executive order proposes not more compassion for immigrants, but allowing children to be placed in detention with their parents. Although this certainly better than separating the children from their parents, it will nonetheless place families in an environment that is not conducive to healthy family life. Furthermore, whether or not they will legally be allowed to remain together is still unclear, as current laws prohibit the detention of children for longer than twenty days.
I’m assuming that readers of this article are coming from a variety of political leanings. However, politics aside, this issue is one of concern to Catholics. Why?
Why Should This Story Concern Us?
It is important to remember that the Church does not endorse a political party, nor does it tell us who to vote for. As Catholics, we are called to engage with politics from the perspective of our faith. Although there are differing views of how the United States should be handling an influx of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers, the Church is very clear in her teaching of how we are to treat refugees and immigrants (illegal or otherwise).
In the USCCB document, Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, the bishops write,
We must never forget that many immigrants come to this country in desperate circumstances…As Pope John Paul II has noted, “In many regions of the world today people live in tragic situations of instability and uncertainty. It does not come as a surprise that in such contexts the poor and the destitute make plans to escape, to seek a new land that can offer them bread, dignity and peace. This is the migration of the desperate. . .. Unfortunately, the reality they find in host nations is frequently a source of further disappointment” (Message on World Migration Day 2000, no. 4).
Some refugees have enjoyed the sanction and support of the U.S. government, while others have been denied attention and systematically deported, and some have been subjected to humiliating incarceration under deplorable conditions…Both individual lay people and church agencies have worked alongside secular organizations to correct these situations and address the sufferings of those caught up in the complex and bureaucratic U.S. immigration system whose policies often lead to the fragmenting of families, but more needs to be done.
The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops also has an excellent video on their site that lays out the Church’s stance on immigrants, including the history of the Catholic Church’s pastoral care for immigrants in this country. You can watch the video and learn more on the USCCB’s page on migration policy. There is even a separate page (and video!) dedicated to children and migration. Their mission statement is, “Creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.”
Within the past month, Bishop Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin (and head of the USCCB Committee on Migration), contacted the members of Congress, urging them to make more humane, compassionate choices for immigrants. You can read more about that statement on the USCCB website, too.
The USCCB makes it abundantly clear that the plight of immigrants (illegal or otherwise) is one that should concern us as Catholics. The bishops clearly explain the importance of Catholics being people who welcome the immigrant as Christ. As stated in the mission statement above, this necessarily requires treating immigrants (and their children) with “dignity” and “respect.” While we are free to discuss what political policies will best accomplish this, we must assert that abuse and intentional infliction of trauma (such as separating young children from parents or prolonged detention in inhumane conditions) are antithetical to our Catholic faith.
How Do We Respond?
What should our response to this be?
To begin with, I highly encourage you to peruse the above links and familiarize yourself with the USCCB’s stance and the Church’s teachings on immigration and treatment of refugees and immigrants. If you would like to support the work of the USCCB with migrants and refugees, you may send donations to the National Catholic Fund for Migration and Refugee Services. Another organization that supports immigrants and refugees is Catholic Relief Services.
Once you have informed yourself about this situation, you can share about it on social media. Share this article, share the above links to the USCCB’s site, etc. Use your voice to speak up for those who are suffering.
If you hear about abuses happening, you can contact your political representatives, advocating for accountability and changes in policy. This article gives suggestions for who to contact with your concerns.
Most importantly, in addition to acting, pray. Storm heaven for our suffering brothers and sisters. Pray for those fleeing persecution, for parents and children who have been separated, and for those seeking freedom and peace. Pray for our political leaders, that the Holy Spirit may guide them to develop laws and policies that are just and humane. Do not underestimate the incredible power of prayer in the face of so much suffering.