Three weeks ago, I attended Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) in Washington, D.C. The title of the program was "A World Uprooted: Responding to Migrants, Refugees and Displaced People." There are currently 65 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world – more than at any time since the end of World War II. Of late, there has been much rhetoric, stereotyping, and fear mongering communicated by the Trump administration regarding immigrants and refugees. After attending EAD, I discerned that there is rhetoric, and then there is reality.
The reality is that in a nation whose leaders often invoke the name of God, it should be recognized that immigrants and refugees are not “illegals,” they are “alternatively documented” and children of God. Detention and separating families at the border are costly and inhumane. Community-based release pending due process values the family, is less expensive and more humane.
The vast majority of people crossing our border (mostly women and children) are not criminals and invaders. Rather, they are seeking asylum caused by the push factors of conflict, corruption, and climate change in their countries of origin. Sending immigrants home and telling them to “get in line” is irrational and uncompassionate.
The reality is that since the 1990s America has welcomed, on average, 75,000 to 95,000 refugees each year. In 2018, the target was lowered to 45,000 and halfway into this fiscal year, fewer than 10,000 refugees have been settled. The reality is that “the line” is not moving.
Immigration reform advocates, shown Sept. 5 in Cincinnati protesting the winding down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, also are concerned about the federal government's use of detainment requests that they say violate immigrants' Fourth Amendment rights.
Walls prevent us from knowing our neighbors and cause us to fear them. Bridges foster relationships and relationships enable us to value and appreciate the contribution of our neighbors. If only our political leaders would sit down and share a dinner with an immigrant or refugee. Their hearts would be touched. We need more face-to-face time in this world.
Toward that end, I have personally invited Congressman Brad Wenstrup to meet immigrants attending my church’s English as a Second Language program. For those who are curious to learn about the reality of the migrant situation, I highly recommendthe message offered at the EAD worship service by Fr. Ricardo Ramirez, retired Roman Catholic bishop of the Las Cruces, New Mexico diocese. He has spent 30 years of his career in ministry interacting with people on both sides of the southern border.
Contrary to the rhetoric, Bishop Ramirez gives witness to the reality that when hospitality is offered, beautiful things happen. After interacting with and hearing the stories of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, those under Temporary Protective Status (TPS), and other immigrants and refugees, I left Washington, D.C., convicted that they are articulate, intelligent, insightful, industrious and resilient. That is not what we are led to believe by the rhetoric coming out of Washington.
If we, as a nation, are to solve the challenges of mass migration, it is incumbent upon each of us to understand the reality rather than be swayed by fearful rhetoric.