The caravan from Central America, and our response as persons of faith
As I prepare these words, a caravan consisting of men, women and children fleeing oppression in Central American countries is slowing approaching the border between Mexico and the United States. What should be the response of the good people of our country to these sisters and brothers in need?
Here are some principles from Catholic social teaching, points that I believe are generally acceptable to persons of other faith traditions.
First, these people are our neighbors, according to Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan. To the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus teaches that everyone is our neighbor and that being neighbor means reaching out effectively to persons who are suffering.
Following from this are the words from the Book of Deuteronomy: “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut.
We recall that Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus were foreigners in Egypt as they were forced to flee King Herod’s attempts to kill the child.
Next, sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. However, wealthier nations have a strong obligation to accommodate refugees.
Yes, it is necessary to vet those who seek asylum but the possibility that there may be a few criminals among them is not reason to reject the whole lot.
Thirdly, people have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. This flows from the right to self-preservation, a right that cannot be alienated or taken away, so basic is it to human dignity. Thus sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate these people if, as in the case of our own, they have the ability to do so.
Fourthly, the dignity and human rights of asylum seekers and undocumented persons should be respected. These include the rights to food, shelter, and freedom from fear. Though it is against the law for people to enter our country illegally, it is not illegal to remain here once they arrive.
Fifthly, it is immoral to make vulnerable people such as immigrants scapegoats for our problems. In reality, our country needs their labor as is evident in the numbers who take jobs like washing dishes, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, working in meat-packing plants and in the grueling agricultural industry.
Lastly, Americans are for fairness and compassion for those who suffer. Just put ourselves in the shoes of the asylum seekers. Would you and I do the same thing for ourselves and our families? I certainly would.
I close with words Pope Francis spoke when he visited our country in 2015: “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow as we would like to be helped ourselves.”