The Statue of Liberty, Mother of Exiles, stands a little taller this week. Her fabled torch shines brighter. Once again, she beckons her welcome to “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Our presidential election signals a change at our borders. Once again, they radiate promise, potential and possibility. Once again, “the homeless, tempest-tost” may dream of opportunity in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Fellowship Southwest works among immigrants amassed along the United States’ 2,000-mile southern border. For the past several years, the refugees we have met placed greater faith in Americans than we placed in ourselves.
They have approached our border legally, requesting asylum — respectfully, hopefully seeking refuge and protection and a fresh start. They have asked to join the overwhelming majority of Americans whose ancestors came here, as they have done, longing for a safer, better life for themselves and their children.
Instead, they have encountered cruelty beyond calculation. Four years ago, Donald Trump launched his first presidential campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists,” and that set the tone for his administration. His chief domestic policy advisor has inflicted barbarism as a deterrent to immigration, much as ranchers across our region hang coyote carcasses on fences as a warning to other coyotes. This administration has attempted to halt immigration by causing oppressed refugees to fear the United States more than they fear the deplorable conditions that drove them from their homelands in the first place.
We have seen children — even infants — ripped from the arms of their parents. Today, U.S. authorities charged with caring for immigrant children do not know the whereabouts of the parents of nearly 700 of them. We have seen children housed in cages, in frigid temperatures and denied tender concern.
We have visited immigrants languishing in sub-human tent camps. We have watched immigration officials stop seeking truth about refugees’ stories of persecution, violence and poverty. Instead, they have been instructed to expedite the cases leading to increased clerical errors that result in denied asylum hearings. We have talked to parents so fearful of returning home they considered swimming the Rio Grande with preschoolers in their arms.
We have talked to mothers who brought young children to the border after gangs killed their older children. We have heard credible stories of beatings, rape and murder. We have seen immigrants raise their hands when asked if they had been kidnapped by drug cartels.
We have sheltered longtime U.S. residents who were summarily deported after living and paying taxes here for decades. We have shed tears with young DREAMers, who only know life in the United States and fear sudden deportation to a “homeland” they do not remember.
Now, we anticipate a new chapter in U.S. immigration history, a chapter quite similar to previous chapters, but totally dissimilar to the horror we have watched the past four years.
“To be clear, we do not advocate ‘open borders.’”
To be clear, we do not advocate “open borders.” U.S. borders never have been completely open. Firm borders are vital for national sovereignty, for ordered commerce and for the welfare of citizens and visitors alike.
But we affirm reason, justice, kindness and compassion at our borders. We acknowledge almost 98% of all U.S. residents descended from somewhere else. We note U.S. history and economics affirm the blessing and value of immigrant arrival and acceptance into our society. Our nation is stronger, more vital and far, far more interesting because of the ongoing influx of people from other places who long to call our nation home.
So, we expect the next U.S. administration to replace wantonness with welcome, hate with hospitality, cruelty with compassion.
We affirm President-elect Biden’s promise to sign an executive order reinstating DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, on Inauguration Day.
We expect the administration to discontinue separating immigrant parents from children at the U.S. border. We also demand concerted effort to find the parents of those nearly 700 children who have no idea where their mamas and papas are today.
We plan to see the relaunch of the U.S. asylum system, staffed to alleviate the months-long backlog, so that the masses of immigrants on our border with Mexico can receive a timely hearing for their cases. And we expect immigration officers and judges to take pains to ascertain if asylum seekers do, indeed, have “credible fear” for their safety in their homelands and to be assured they can seek safety among us if going home will endanger their health and their lives.
“God, forgive us the years Jesus languished in pup tents along our borders.”
We hope the U.S. and Mexican governments will cooperate to create safe shelters on both sides of the border. Asylum seekers need not live in tents, nor fear human predators and deprivation as they move steadily through the asylum process.
We encourage the U.S government to work with the governments of nations from which asylum seekers flee. While many of them can and will strengthen our nation by joining us, we grieve the loss to their home countries by their departures. We wish for them to be able to stay where most of them long to stay — home, reveling in the culture and climate of their forebears. We pray conditions will improve so they do not feel they must flee persecution, murder, poverty and climate change where they have lived for generations.
We desire robust international exchange through the healthy and helpful exchange of student and work visas. Our universities, industries and communities flourish with the flow of people from all over the world into and through our society.
Our work along the border has reminded us all people are children of God, created with the divine stamp of God’s likeness. We know without doubt God loves each of them as much as God loves anybody anywhere.
We take seriously Jesus’ teaching: How we treat the weakest and most vulnerable people mirrors how we treat him. And so, we ask God’s repentance upon the United States for years of shameful treatment of our Savior. God, forgive us the years Jesus languished in pup tents along our borders, scurried in the shadows of our cities and wept in detention centers, cold, abandoned and alone.
Marv Knox serves as coordinator of Fellowship Southwest. This opinion piece is published concurrently with BNG and Fellowship Southwest.