Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston called the latest immigration policies out of the Trump administration misguided and immoral yesterday.
Speaking on the practice of separating children from their parents if they enter the country illegally, even as asylum seekers, O’Malley says:
The intent of this policy is clear: to discourage those seeking asylum by severing the most sacred human bond of parent and child. Children are now being used as a deterrent against immigrants who are appealing to us for asylum in order to protect themselves and their families. As disturbing as this fact is, the narrative of this development makes clear the misguided moral logic of the policy.
While O’Malley said he supports political and legal authorities, he says that he “cannot be silent when our country’s immigration policy destroys families, traumatizes parents, and terrorizes children. The harmful and unjust policy of separating children from their parents must be ended.”
Meanwhile, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, also spoke out about the new practices. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral,” he said in a statement distributed at a gathering of the Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But he also addressed US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to no longer extend asylum to victims of domestic violence, saying that the move “elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection.”
Asylum, he wrote, is “an instrument to preserve the right to life. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives.”
Michael Gerson of the Washington Post writes that “if there is one area where the teaching of the Christian faith is utterly clear, it is in the requirement to care for the vulnerable stranger.” But Speaker Paul Ryan, he says, addressed none of this at a recent Catholic Prayer Breakfast even while complaining “that politicians are too often in ‘survival mode’—trying to ‘get through the day,’ rather than reflecting on and applying Catholic social teaching.” But, writes Gerson, Ryan has cooperated with the President in transforming the GOP into an anti-immigrant party:
According to the Hebrew scriptures: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” In the New Testament, Jesus employs compassion for an abused, reviled foreigner (a Samaritan) as the test and definition of neighbor love.
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He talks of his own tradition of evangelical Protestantism, writing:
According to a recent Pew Research poll, white evangelical Protestants are the least likely group in America to affirm an American responsibility to accept refugees. Evangelicals insist on the centrality and inerrancy of scripture and condemn society for refusing to follow biblical norms—and yet, when it comes to verse after verse requiring care for the stranger, they not only ignore this mandate; they oppose it.
The research Gerson cites describes how views of immigration correlate with religious affiliation:
Religiously unaffiliated Americans, those who belong to non-Christian religious traditions, and non-white Christians hold the most positive views of immigrants. At least seven in ten Unitarian Universalists (81 percent), Hindus (73 percent), Muslims (72 percent), and Hispanic Catholics (70 percent) say that newcomers coming to the US strengthen the country. Roughly two-thirds (65 percent) of Buddhists and about six in ten religiously unaffiliated Americans (61 percent) and Hispanic Protestants (60 percent) also affirm the positive contribution immigrants make to American society. White Christians express substantially more ambivalence about immigrants. Fewer than half of Mormons (45 percent), white Catholics (44 percent), and white mainline Protestants (41 percent) believe immigrants strengthen the country. Roughly four in ten Mormons (38 percent), white Catholics (41 percent), and white mainline Protestants (43 percent) say that immigrants present a threat to American culture. White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only religious community in which a majority (53 percent) believe that immigrants threaten traditional American customs and values. Only about one-third (32 percent) of white evangelical Protestants believe newcomers from other countries benefit the US.
But there are ways to appeal to universal values when we are faced with the image of caged children separated from their parents. Writing for Forward, the Jewish news source, Harry Rimalower and Mel Levine remonstrate with the Jewish community that it must protest:
Children are being taken away from their parents by design. Chief of Staff John Kelly has been quoted as saying that this policy was adopted as a deterrent to others crossing the border. The purpose is for directly affected families to bring the terror of their experiences home with them — to warn others that their children will be taken from them if they come here. This is not bureaucratic oversight. This is not something haphazard. This is not some unintended consequence that slipped through the cracks. This is a democratic government orchestrating a callous, calculated and intentional policy of separating families and terrorizing children.
Because we are Jews, these stories have special resonance. The thought of being a parent and watching our children taken away to the unknown has a familiar and deeply disturbing place in our own history. Images of SS officers in concentration camps separating children from their parents come readily to mind when reading these stories. To be clear, we are not claiming that our country is committing a genocide, nor do we want to, in any way, trivialize the horrors of the Holocaust. However, for our country to be employing the same barbaric practice as Nazi concentration camps is simply unconscionable.
The Jews who live today are the descendants of those who survived. The separation of families is our grim heritage. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, all sorted away, separated into the unknown, never to be seen by each other again. The modern Jewish ethos is deeply rooted in this trauma, and from an early age we are taught to “never forget.” But never forgetting is meaningless if the memories do not instruct the present. We are presented, today, in our time, with our own government taking children away from their parents for no purpose other than abject terror.
The public discourse about the outrageous behavior and vile language of our government in responding to families seeking refuge at our inn is all wrong. It is largely flowing from the criminalization of those fleeing violence, and it creates an image deeply anti-communal, irrational and fearful instead of fact- or morality-based. This should be the time when we call to another image in no uncertain terms.—Ruth McCambridge