Why are U.S. citizens, many of them Christians, among the most virulent supporters of the border wall, deporting people to their deaths, and imprisoning desperate families and their children for months on end? For those of us who have accompanied refugees at some point in our lives, the rhetoric of demonization and the apathy toward the most vulnerable people in the world is appalling.
My friend “Gilberto” left the only home he knew on foot at just 16 years old. Why? In the 1980s, the U.S. government-backed support for Central American torture and “disappearance” of thousands of men, women and children in destabilized countries like Nicaragua. It forced thousands, like my friend Gilberto to leave in order to survive.
Ten years later, Gilberto married a loving wife, created a family and started a small business. Yet last year, just before Christmas, Gilberto was told to return to Nicaragua on his own or he would be deported. Despite thousands of dollars of lawyers processing fees and countless hours navigating a complicated process, he was ordered to leave his family, not knowing whether he would see them again. Unlike most deportees, Gilberto did get permission to return and reunite with his family, but the anxiety, fear, and emotional trauma he and his family endured through it all is unconscionable. Gilberto’s is not alone. This is the story for many escaping violence and even death in Central America.
Citizens of countries including Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and more continue to migrate and seek safety in the United States. Many who manage to cross the border after the perilous journey are often captured by the U.S. government and sent back, at first without their children. Deportation for those desperately seeking asylum can often mean death or disappearance upon their return to their home countries.
A Sister of Mercy who gave her life to the cause of migrants and refugees once advised me, “If you do nothing, you will have given your consent to the injustice unfolding before you.” I have taken her words of wisdom to heart. So, what do I do?
With my dear friend Gilberto in my heart, I urge our U.S. senators, John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, and our members of Congress, Steve Scalise, and Cedric Richmond, to stop spending billions of our tax dollars on building a wall that keeps God’s people out. As Louisianans, we can offer refugees hope instead of fear. As Louisianans, we can seek forgiveness from refugees for our role in destabilizing their homelands instead of stereotyping them. As Louisianans, we could be following God’s command, “welcoming the strangers in our lands,” instead of terrorizing the most vulnerable of God’s people.
Sister Terri Bednarz
assistant professor, New Testament Studies, Loyola University