You may have noticed that the Bible made the news headlines this week. The United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted Romans chapter 13, which is about obeying civil authorities, to back up the Trump administration’s immigration policy, in particular the hotly disputed policy of separating children from their parents. That Bible verse was often used to justify slavery.
Almost 2,000 migrant children have been separated from their families at the US border over the last six weeks. Following a Trump administration crackdown on illegal border crossings from Mexico, adults are being detained, meaning the children with them are removed from their care, and on Thursday Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted the Bible to defend this.
It seems that the adults entering the USA are being charged with a crime, and therefore automatically detained, and so the children that travel with them are being separated and classed as unaccompanied minors. Figures from the US Department of Homeland Security show that 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults who are being held between 19 April and 31 May. The children are passed into the care of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Some parents have been told that their children are going to be given baths, which you will recall sounds far too much like people being told to shower in Nazi death camps. The Bible is no justification for this. The United Nations has called on the US to immediately halt the separations.
Perhaps everyone does this? I did some research, and found that no other country has a policy of separating families who intend to seek asylum. In the European Union, which faced its worst migrant crisis in decades three years ago, most asylum seekers are held in reception centres while their requests are processed. Even in Australia, which has some of the world’s most restrictive immigration policies, including the detention in controversial offshore centres of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, there is no policy to separate parents from their children upon arrival. “What the US is doing now, there is no equivalent,” said Michael Flynn, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Detention Project, a non-profit group focused on the rights of detained immigrants. “There’s nothing like this anywhere”.
What really brought it home to me was a report posted on the internet on Friday by a flight attendant of their experience that day. I found it utterly chilling. I’ll read it to you:
“Through all the adversities we faced last evening with computer outages, cancellations and delays, nothing prepared me or my crew for 16 passengers. Sixteen. All dressed in black and gray cheap Walmart sweat suits, quietly boarding the 12:30am flight.
Children! Thirty-two scared eyes looking straight forward dazed. We try to speak, yet none speak English.
During the beverage service, one of the crew comes to me in tears. They can’t face these children that have been ripped from their families with a smile.
These children were probably ranging in age from 11, to the most adorable little girl maybe 6 years old. At 2:30 in the morning, deplaned here in Miami not knowing if they will ever see their loved ones again that they were separated from in Phoenix.
Those sweet innocent children, dressed as criminals silently deplaned with the same fear as our initial meeting. Except for the little girl. She looked up at me as she turned left for the main cabin door, with tears of fear streaming down her face. I’m not sure the protocol, but I leaned over hoping to offer some hope, she hugged me, which was returned – much to the scowl and comments from the adult escort.
I pray that these 16 scared little souls, as well as all the other thousands, find their way to reuniting with their loved ones. We are trained yearly in hundreds of possible scenarios as attendants. Something like this isn’t remotely one of those. I had only met one of my crew a few years earlier, the rest never. Thank God, we had one another to lean on to not only get through the flight, but also maybe some glimmer of hope for those babies.”
How on earth can we respond to these children, taken from their parents, quite possibly with the telling of lies, and flown over 2000 miles away? How can Christians respond to this?
Surely we must condemn any assertion that migrant children should be separated from their parents because of ‘orderly and lawful processes that protect the weak and lawful,’ a Biblical statement used to justify U.S. immigration policies. Mr Sessions quoted Romans 13. I’m going to quote Psalm 106:
“Still, when God saw the trouble they were in and heard their cries for help,
God remembered his Covenant with them, and, immense with love, took them by the hand.
God poured out his mercy on them while their captors looked on, amazed.”
Are we not once again standing at the brink of a moral precipice in our society? The question before us is will we choose to act in covenant with God on behalf of God’s people, or will we sacrifice our soul? Are not all Christians challenged to support all human beings in intolerable and unsafe living conditions? As people of God committed to the sacredness of all creation and the sanctity of every life, are we not compelled to heed the cries of families now being violently torn apart for political expediency and profitability? Such violent acts are unnecessarily punitive and place at risk the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and developmental stability of hundreds of families who now find themselves separated, caged, and commodified in a strange land.
As the psalmist said, God hears the cries of his people. The plight of families whose children are ripped from their care cannot be the policy of any civilized land. Such behaviour leaves an indelible mark of evil that can only be redeemed by a conscious act of spiritual repentance and repair.
We must resist the evil of dehumanisation enacted upon the vulnerable. We must condemn the dismantling of families, and the caging of those whose only crime is to seek shelter from harm. How we treat those who seek shelter in our midst is a direct reflection of how we treat God. In a few days’ time it will be World Refugee Day, on Wednesday June 20. Are we going to stand up for people who cannot stand up themselves? Are we going to contact our elected representatives, asking them to stand up to these brutal and inhumane American polices? In less than a month president Trump is due to visit this country? Will we be protesting? Will we be making it clear what we think of his regime’s attitude to vulnerable children? There is a law that supersedes partisanship and political bantering, and that is the sanctity of all people of God.
Mr Sessions quoted Romans 13. I’m going to end with some verses from Matthew’s gospel, which remind us of the need to be true to the message and the work of Jesus, Matthew 7:21-23:
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”