Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter joined other female clergy this week to learn more about and advocate on behalf of families separated by U.S. immigration policy at the U.S. border with Mexico.
The 11-member delegation – also including pastors Amy Butler of Riverside Church in New York City and Maria Swearingen of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. — returns home today after nearly a week of travel to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward immigrants who enter the country illegally.
The fact-finding mission led by the ecumenical justice group Faith in Public life comes on the heels of a letter signed by 8,000 women of faith demanding that the Department of Homeland Security stop tearing families apart.
“Religious women are mad as hell,” said Jennifer Butler, founding executive director of Faith in Public Life and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
“My faith compels me to act,” Butler said. “Jesus told us that whatever we do to the least of these we do to him. Scripture tells us repeatedly we are to treat immigrants with compassion for we were all once migrants and sojourners. I am not an American first. I am a Christian first.”
While President Trump signed an executive order a week ago backing away from the administration’s controversial policy of separating migrant families at the border, Faith in Public Life says “moral atrocities” continue with thousands of children remaining separated from their parents.
On Wednesday the #FaithOnTheBorder delegation formed a prayer chain at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, before visiting the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center, where asylum seekers can eat, sleep, shower and change clothes before continuing their journey after their release by border patrol.
Women wrote prayers on the yellow wrist bands given to mothers to indicate they are waiting to be reunified with their children and fastened them to a gate on the border wall.
“Sisters, we are gathered here at what is a monument to the hubris of empire,” said Amy Butler, a columnist for Baptist News Global whose current church is interdenominational but affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. “How dare we assume that we are better than our brothers and sisters who live just across the border?”
“We repent from the pride that leads us to think we could do this to God’s children,” Butler prayed.
On Day Two they joined a crowd of 1,500 people at an ACLU-sponsored rally for immigrant children in a park across the street from the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, where immigrants are prosecuted for crossing the border into the United States.
Participants stood in solidarity with immigrants being prosecuted,those waiting for days or weeks to apply for asylum at nearby ports of entry, thousands detained without due process at ICE’s Port Isabel mega-jail and children caged by Border Patrol in “freezers.”
“This complex issue of immigration needs our best thought and our most passionate response,” Paynter said, while denouncing “a smug and unnecessary policy [that] has brought this grievance on the backs of children and mothers.”
“The separation and distress of children is cruel and wantonly unnecessary,” Paynter said. “Before they were children of Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and other troubled places, the children were children of God.”
“National boundaries and lawful migration are complex 21st century realities that call for our best, most thoughtful and most humane national efforts,” Paynter said. “Calculated trauma and brinksmanship on the backs of children and families in flight is brutal. I will not be complicit by silence, nor complacent by weariness.”