Claiming to be faithful Catholics while shipping bewildered refugees by plane and bus to other states is a case of “fake religion” for the governors of Arizona, Florida and Texas, Sojourners magazine founder Jim Wallis said during a virtual press briefing with American religious leaders.
“There’s nothing faithful, and certainly nothing Catholic, about using people as political props. This stands in opposition to Jesus’ clear teaching to love our neighbor as yourself,” said Wallis, now director of the Center on Faith and the chair in Faith and Justice at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.
The Sept. 19 briefing was called in response to the recent actions of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — all Roman Catholics — who shipped asylum seekers from border states to other parts of the country. Ducey and Abbot sent them from their states to Washington D.C. and New York City, and DeSantis chartered a plane to take asylees from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., since Florida is not a border state.
“I’ve been quite astounded at the deep response in the last several days from people across our religious communities to this deplorable political act of putting vulnerable people on buses on planes for people’s own political purpose,” Wallis said. “To use vulnerable people as political props, that’s fake faith. We see a fake faith in operation here.”
Congressional action on immigration reform is needed to address these issues. But contrition by the governors would be a start, he said.
“I say to the governors: Read you Bible. Read the gospel. Become who you say are — faithful Christians. You’re not acting like it. What’s happened is a sin that must be repented. That doesn’t just mean saying you’re sorry. Repentance means turning around and going in a whole different direction.”
And a different direction should bring with it a different way to understand and treat immigrants, he said. “The word ‘stranger’ in the Bible means immigrant. And how we care for the stranger in Matthew 25 is how we care for Christ. This isn’t political opposition, this is theological.”
Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey have done much more than ignore Scripture’s direction on how to treat immigrants, Sojourners President Adam Russell Taylor said.
“These governors are not only turning (asylum seekers) away, they are removing migrants and asylum seekers from the places where resources and support systems have been set up to secure fair and legal proceedings for asylum,” he said. “These cruel and cynical political stunts, to score political points and rile up their MAGA base, come at the expense of real children and families whose very dignity … is being assaulted as a result.”
But Taylor pointed to a silver lining emerging from the chaos created by the three governors.
“Most recently, Gov. DeSantis’ doubling down on this indefensible act demonstrates just how out of touch he is with our best civic and religious values,” he said. “In stark contrast, the outpouring of compassionate support that churches and many people in Martha’s Vineyard extended to the 50 migrants who landed on their island unexpected last week, shows the very best of our civic and religious values.”
The solution lies beyond the immediate crisis, he added. “We call on these governors to stop these immoral antics and we call on Congress and the Biden administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
The recent actions of Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey should be an affront to evangelicals especially, said Gabriel Salguero, president and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition and pastor of The Gathering Place in Orlando, Fla.
“As an evangelical pastor who for decades has been working for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform that honors the image of God in every single person no matter where he or she comes from, we find these stunts by these governors … incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In reciting Matthew 25, Christians often recall the need to help the hungry, thirsty and naked but overlook that “Jesus himself said, … ‘I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.’ And this is our commitment,” Salguero said.
That’s why immigration reform ultimately is not a political matter, he continued. “This is not a partisan issue. It is a moral issue. What do we do with people who are seeking asylum, who are trying to better their lives, who are many times fleeing, not just from political or economic upheaval, but from the very threat of their lives?”
Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, urged empathy for the immigrants whisked off to “far-flung cities” by Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey.
“It’s painful even to imagine the circumstances that drive people to flee their home countries and make a journey of such length and danger in search of safety and security … and upon arrival seeking asylum, as they are legally allowed to do, they are treated with disdain. They are sent thousands of miles away to distant states without a clear explanation and without notifying the communities where they’re going to be arriving. None of this lives up to the teaching that’s found across faith traditions.”
The governors are not alone to blame, Weinstein said. “The failings of our immigration system are a collective failing. They don’t belong to any one individual or any one state. And fixing what’s broken in our immigration system is also a collective responsibility.”
But Weinstein added that the governors do have amends to make. “Remember, it is never too late to repent and repair. It is never too late to do what is right.”