Although both U.S. and international law dictate that noncitizens arriving at our borders have a right to apply for asylum and other forms of protection, the Trump administration has continued to jeopardize the health and safety of families fleeing to our borders by obstructing the established process to seek asylum.
In 1939, The Saint Louis appeared off the coast of Florida with 900 Jewish refugees who had set sail for the U.S. from Hamburg, Germany. The United States refused to let them in and sent them back to Germany. More than a quarter of them were murdered in the Holocaust. This is one example of the thousands of Jewish refugees that the U.S. turned away during the Second World War, fearing that they were really Nazi spies. The results were horrific.
After World War II, the United States vowed to do better, to learn from our mistakes and to seek to welcome people into our land who were fleeing violent situations. Yet, the United States denied asylum status to Haitians fleeing the Duvalier dictatorship and to Salvadorans fleeing political violence in the 1980’s resulting in widespread human rights abuse.
So now here we are again in 2018. We have another humanitarian crisis on our hands, as we refuse to obey our own laws and hear the cases of asylum seekers at our southern border.
On Human Rights Day, over four hundred faith leaders from various traditions and civic leaders from all around the country slogged through mud on a long march from Border Field State Park to the border wall that divides the U.S. and Mexico. We traveled at a slow pace, but the point wasn’t to get there in a hurry, it was to journey together. We were marching for the people just on the other side of the border who had walked for over a month from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border to flee violence in their homeland.
When they arrived, they discovered that they weren’t welcome either in Mexico or the United States. Now, they are in limbo, living in the squalor of tent cities in Tijuana. Some of them have lost hope and decided that they have a better chance facing the violence in their own country than they do of being granted asylum in ours.
When our group arrived at the border wall, we weren’t allowed to approach, but we could see people gathering on the other side and we began waving to each other with armed border patrol agents standing between us. “The wall” has become a political talking point with little truth to the fearful rhetoric promoted by this administration to gain funding to build President Trump’s dream wall.
There is talk of shutting down the government until $5 billion is approved for border security, a sizable chunk of that will be allocated for expansion of the wall. But we must ask ourselves what are the true costs of such immoral actions. What are the costs of children being separated from their families and held in makeshift detention centers? What are the costs of a divided nation as we watch teargas and rubber bullets used on people simply running toward freedom? What are the costs of a nation that can no longer be trusted to abide by its own laws?
Recently, a seven-year-old Guatemalan girl died while in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. Even if she hadn’t, she would have joined the almost 15,000 immigrant children that the U.S. is currently holding in detention facilities. When children are being separated from their families, held in detention, kept in tent cities in Tijuana, or dying in search of a better life, we cannot sit idly by as if everything is normal.
We must realize that the wall is not a political issue, it is a moral one, and the soul of our nation is one the line.
During this time of the year, over two billion Christians are preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. As a part of the Christmas story, we read in the Gospel of Matthew that once Jesus had been born, his family became refugees as they fled from the violence in their homeland and sought asylum in the land of Egypt.
What if Egypt had turned them away? Christians recognize that when we see a migrant child at the border, we are really looking into the face of Christ.
As the United Church of Christ Executive Minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries, and as a San Diego pastor serving just a few miles from the camps in Tijuana, we have both seen the harmful impact that U.S. policies are having on people who are suffering. We ask our nation’s decision makers not to be drawn into political squabbling. Instead, we hope that they will think about those who are most vulnerable and who are living on the margins. For it is people who come from such backgrounds who have been a part of the heart and soul of this country. We implore our nation’s leaders to recognize that the soul of our nation is in jeopardy.
Rev. Traci D. Blackmon (@PastorTraci) serves as associate general officer of Justice and Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ. Rev. Caleb J. Lines is senior minister at University Christian Church in San Diego, Calif.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.