A year ago I wrote of the horrific treatment of migrant children, many seeking asylum, who were being ripped away from their parents – some to never reunite again. I assumed the practice would cease, considering the public outcry at the time. But here we are over a year later and the situation appears to have only gotten worse.
Recent reports and photographs by members of Congress over the past week have highlighted the humiliating and inhumane treatment refugees detained on the border are receiving. These refugees are considered civil detainees, not criminal, and their detention is not supposed to be punitive. Pictures and testament tell a different story.
• Nine hundred people crammed into a cell with a maximum capacity of 125; detainees standing on toilets to have room to breathe; others wearing soiled clothing for days or weeks.
• Toddlers quarantined in 8x10 cells sick with the flu and sleeping on the floor.
• Fifteen women in their 50’s-60’s sleeping in a small concrete cell with no running water, going weeks without showers while separated from their families.
• Even government inspectors reported detainees who haven’t showered in a month are being held in standing-room-only conditions.
These refugees are fleeing situations and travesties most of us can’t even comprehend. Many are escaping a life of poverty and the threat of being murdered or raped. Who can blame them for seeking asylum? Especially when the immigrants crossing the border are enticed by American businesses who readily hire them for the manual labor jobs most Americans won’t consider doing.
Last week we celebrated America’s independence, and while I believe America is a great country, we can be better. One of our biggest shortcomings is we tend to lock people up more than any other country. That’s right: the United States has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world.
So maybe it shouldn’t surprise me when I see similar treatment of migrants seeking asylum at the southern border. But I do find it very disturbing, especially the children, six of whom have died while in custody in the last eight months.
It shouldn’t be a political issue, but a humanitarian one. Church congregations throughout the country should be marching in the streets in support of the refugees, and while many have, other churches have remained quiet with no outrage from the pulpit or the pews. Actually, many white evangelical Christians are supportive of the current tactics being used and don’t seem very bothered by the situation.
Take for example Rev. Jerry Falwell Jr., who recently lashed out at a theologian for saying, “the conditions should shock all of our consciences… those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”
Falwell obviously doesn’t take much stock in the Old Testament, which is pretty clear on where God is on the issue.
• Exodus 23:9 – “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
• Leviticus 19:33,34 – “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. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
The Old Testament also says not to tattoo your body or eat any meat that still has blood in it, so I too hope there is some wiggle room. But in all seriousness, God appears pretty adamant when it comes to welcoming foreigners.
• Jeremiah 22:3 – “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”
Of course, many of us don’t need the Bible to tell us it is wrong to mistreat any human. The deplorable conditions of the immigrant detention centers and the prisons that house American citizens have become the norm, and many Americans have become desensitized to the treatment given to those in the criminal justice system.
Next time you are sitting on the church pew, give what I have said some thought and maybe prod the preacher. Because put in the same situation, would you too not run for the border with your family in tow? Damn straight you would.