I have been an advocate and ally for immigrant rights for years and believe our immigration system and policies are a travesty. But Southwest Key Detention Center for minors in Tucson is NOT the football field sized holding warehouse where kids sleep on the floor in cages with Mylar blankets. Southwest Key has the Homeland Security contract to house children after they have been processed. I pastored the kids there for a year in 2016 and 2017 and do not feel these centers should be targeted for protests.
Is detention of children wrong? Yes. And what I saw in my year there were kids in an environment where they got to be kids - going to school, getting medical treatment, playing sports, attending worship, and eating square meals while the staff worked to find safe, credible, and able sponsors who would receive them while they go through the asylum system. The staff of social workers, teachers, medical and good service workers were mostly compassionate and committed to the children’s care.
Separating children who have already been seriously traumatized from their parents who are seeking asylum because life is not tenable in their own country is a violation of U.S. law and Christian ethics. Yes, as Mary Luti calls us to action in Wednesday’s UCC Daily Devotional, let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves as we discern our next right steps that do not make the situation any worse for these children.
Detention of children has become big business and is commonplace. We must change this. To pray and do nothing else is obscene. If you protest, protest your elected officials’ offices. Be a presence on the border. Support organizations like Kino Border Initiative and Casa Alitas that do great work with migrants and asylum seekers. Raise money for legal fees. Stand and speak and act up as people of faith. Vote. Vote. Vote. But please don’t fall for demonizing those who do care within our sick system. We need good people on the inside.
Regardless of the president’s actions today or yesterday, the practice of criminalizing parents who risk everything to get their children to safety from violence and persecution, and turning away asylum seekers from our borders without due process are all, at the very least, antithetical to our faith, and at most, criminal. We must continue to act as advocates and allies to our neighbors who are being crushed under the wheels of unjust immigration policy and practice. We need each other to survive. We need each other to thrive.
The Rev. Delle McCormick is senior pastor of Rincon UCC in Tucson, Ariz.
The United Church of Christ is deeply troubled by the separation of children from their parents at our borders, joining our efforts with others on the frontlines of this protest as we have on immigration concerns for decades.
This Thursday, 6/21, at 4pm EST/3pm CST/1pm PST, Justice & Local Church Ministries (JLCM) will host a webinar to outline our current actions, alliances, and opportunities for public dissent of our nation’s current policies concerning children at the border. This time will also offer an opportunity to share local efforts of which we may not yet be aware. All are welcome and can register here.