As people of faith we support those detained in inhumane conditions on our southern border; we testify that “the Lord hears the cry of the poor” (Psalm 34). It is a seminal question though to ask: Do we, the citizens of the United States, hear the cry of the poor? There is ample evidence to suggest we do not — and throughout our history we have repeatedly not heard them.
The broken immigration system in this country and the present border crisis it has precipitated should not be viewed only as a present failure of a given administration; it should not be seen in isolation from the larger issues of prejudice — expressing itself as racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and white supremacy.
This year we recall the 400th anniversary of the introduction of slavery in America. The spirit of colonialism that pre-dates the founding of our country, always required a subjected people — someone or a group/race/denomination of someones to which the majority could feel superior.
What we are seeing at the border is sin, pure and simple — the U.S. Bishops have made clear that the situation is unjust and must change. Catholics should know this! Firstly, most of those fleeing violence and hunger from failed nation states in Central America are Catholics. The experience of Catholics (white Catholics) being oppressed in this nation is well documented. Central Kentucky was settled largely by Catholics fleeing political discrimination and religious intolerance following the American Revolution. During the 19th-century, as Nativism spread across the country, waves of Catholic Irish and German immigrants were met with more oppression. Here in Louisville during the Bloody Sunday Riot of 1855, 22 people were killed, scores wounded, homes and businesses burned. Our own Cathedral of the Assumption and St. Martin of Tours Church were threatened with being burned to the ground as well.
The 20th-century saw our borders closed following World War I. Lady Liberty’s light was dimmed as hate groups like the KKK saw a huge resurgence. Today Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are once again on the rise. The current state of affairs is therefore not new.
During the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Pledge of Allegiance was officially changed by Congress — adding the phrase “under God.” To this day when we recite the Pledge, we place ourselves under God — under God’s love, but also under God’s might and justice. Do we not fear, therefore, God’s judgement and condemnation for failing in this critical time concerning immigration because we are not following the Lord’s instruction, “as often as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me?” God help us to indeed have a holy fear and amend our ways. Let us today hear the cry of the poor and, God help us, do something to end this human suffering. Amen.
Father Troy Overton is the pastor of St. Edward Church.