Editorial — Protect children at the border

Marnie McAllister

Some people are comparing the Customs and Border Protection detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border to concentration camps, a comparison that raises eyebrows and plenty of hackles, calling to mind Hitler’s campaign of genocide.

Certainly, the United States of America isn’t attempting genocide.

So, what is our government doing? What do we call this imprisonment of adults and children in inhumane conditions?

When we take a level-headed look at the situation at the border and attempt to parse it, we see:

  • Infants and older children are still being separated from parents.
  • Children are being cared for by other children in grossly overcrowded facilities.
  • Babies and toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves fully clothed.
  • Most have not bathed since their arrival.
  • They are hungry.
  • Their “caretakers” are uniformed and armed guards who wear face masks to avoid the stench.
  • One teen mother who gave birth in detention by emergency c-section couldn’t stand and her preemie was sick and filthy.

These conditions were observed by teams of lawyers and reported by the New York Times and other media outlets early this week.

A level-headed U.S. citizen — whether he or she feels immigrants are in the right or in the wrong by crossing the U.S. border — knows it’s wrong to treat people this way.

Level-headedness aside, a believer in God must be horrified. God’s likeness is being dehumanized hundreds of times over everyday by our government.

To be clear, these people — children and adults alike — do not deserve this treatment. We don’t treat murderers this way in U.S. prisons. The crime of immigrants who sneak across the border is a misdemeanor. Those who present themselves for asylum have committed no crime.

Catholics who are still trying to parse where they stand on this issue can rest assured that this treatment has nothing to do with immigration laws.

It is a pro-life issue and has everything to do with human rights and the abuse of those rights by a government, one that prides itself on being a world leader. The government that represents us is abusing vulnerable people, and this isn’t new. A year ago, we first learned about the separation of families at the border. We thought the government had changed course. We were wrong.

Now that we know, will we be complicit?

The U.S. bishops have long sought reasonable reform of immigration laws that put people first — especially families — while also respecting the nation’s borders and need for security.

Congress has wrestled with this bear for decades and can’t seem to move beyond incremental steps.

Currently, Congress is looking at two bills, which each allocate about $4.5 billion in emergency aid at the border. But those funds prioritize different things.

The House passed a bill on June 25 that includes new standards for medical care and nutrition at border facilities and allocates a majority of the funding to the care of migrants.

A Senate proposal lacks those safeguards and places an emphasis on expanding detention facilities and law enforcement.

The House version most closely resembles the priorities of the U.S. bishops as explained in a letter to Congress recently.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin asked lawmakers in a June 18 letter to ensure funding adequately addresses the humanitarian needs of detainees, urging, “Please do so without compromising the rights of children, asylum seekers, and other individuals seeking safety in the United States.”

How can we help?

Short of shutting down detention centers with massive demonstrations at the border and acts of civil disobedience, the way to effect change is to personally show Congress how much we care.

Contact your lawmakers. Now.

And make it personal, says Ursuline Sister Larraine Lauter, who has started a postcard campaign to influence lawmakers.

She made a postcard template that she’ll email to you upon request. Just send an email to her specially created email address — ConstituentToCongress@gmail.com — and she’ll respond with the printable black and white document.

Be sure to hand write your note, she says.

“In this day and age, when we can just thoughtlessly copy and paste, print and send, a handwritten note is truly noteworthy for the effort it requires,” she said. “When compared with online petitions, it gives witness to authentic passion for a cause.”
She also reminds people to be civil.

“You are far more likely to be effective if you can speak without attacks or bad language,” she notes in the email reply she sends with the template.

Marnie McAllister
Editor

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