A powerful poem by Warsan Shire called Home has been circulating as a deeply heart-wrenching encapsulation of the refugee and asylum seekers reasons for embarking on their journey. It says, “no one leaves home unless home is in the mouth of a shark; you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.”
The journey of asylum seekers currently happening in a caravan from Honduras and Central America holds a host of these stories; women, children and families who are fleeing violence and extreme need. Women are fleeing rape and gender-based attacks, families who face poverty and others working to be reunited with their families. While highlighted by the Administration and singled out as a national security threat, these families in the caravan are actually part of the normal, fairly steady stream of people who make their way up through Mexico to the US border. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the increased levels of corruption and violence in the world are leaving people with no other option than to leave home and seek protection elsewhere. The United States, rather than demonizing these individuals and militarizing the border, should take a long hard look at decades of U.S. economic and foreign policy, weapon sales, and involvement with Central American security training that all have helped contribute to the instability in the region and particularly in the Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras).
The simple fact of the matter is that these families do not represent a crisis or threat to the United States. Rather, they represent an opportunity for the United States to live up to its highest ideals by welcoming them and treating them with dignity and compassion. The right to asylum is not just a legal right, it is a moral imperative, and the United States cannot reject those who come here asking for protection. On November 1st, the President announced a ban on asylum for any person who crosses between official ports of entry. While the proposed rule to enforce the announcement has not been released, this will dramatically limit the ability of people who arrive at the border to seek asylum, place significant limits on where and when people can seek asylum, and make the circumstances by which someone would qualify for asylum much more strenuous. The Administration has also made it clear it is using inflammatory rhetoric about the caravan to move forward with the plan to indefinitely detain families and individuals who arrive at the border.
It is deeply frustrating to see the regulatory process be used to contort immigration and asylum law to fit an agenda of closed borders. Already there are numerous reports of the asylum process being slowed down as well as ports of entry and immigration courts being understaffed and difficult to navigate. Contrary to what it might seem from the vitriol, border crossings are at historic lows, and we have an orderly asylum process that should be utilized and which is capable of handling all those who present themselves for asylum. This makes the proposed regulatory changes to asylum even more cynical and immoral.
We don’t know exactly when people in this specific group will start arriving at our border, and we don’t know exactly how many there will be, but we are a nation of plenty that should stand ready and willing, greeting these families with an outstretched hand, as though they were our family. As the United Church of Christ we have spoken out in many ways - by offering direct assistance and support at the border, through accompaniment efforts from local churches and Global Ministries, through advocacy efforts to Congress and the Administration, and with the many voices of UCC congregations and leaders who are urging our government to open our hearts and doors to these vulnerable families. Our faith reminds us over and over that ultimately, we are called to love - fully, fiercely and compassionately. The families arriving at the border present us with an opportunity to live into that call.
Katie Adams is the United Church of Christ's Policy Advocate for Domestic Issues.