Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and those of other faith traditions and beliefs:
When our neighbor is in need, we are called to respond. As we continue to hear, see, and read the accounts shared, in recent days, of children harmed by the brutal act of separation at our country's southern border, causes for grave concern to the nation that we are becoming. Are we to be made great again by harming those who are most vulnerable?
The United States of America has no law which requires the children of undocumented immigrants to be separated from their parents as they cross our borders. Moreover, it is unfathomable the harm that this has done to parents, who only seek to protect their children and provide them a better opportunity, but most importantly the scars it will leave on these children for the rest of their lives.
To date, reports share that more than 2,000 children, who are tired and weak but filled with the hope and promise that tomorrow will be better, have been separated from their mothers and fathers as a result of the "zero tolerance" policy of the Trump Administration for illegal border crossings. However, no law in the United States requires such a cruel and inhumane response from our government.
The Executive Branch of this administration and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, can use discretion in how we approach this matter that would allow for a more palatable solution when children and families cross our borders seeking safety, asylum or sanctuary.
Our country has a complicated and shameful history of stripping families from one another. From the treatment to those who are indigenous, our Native American brothers and sisters, to this country; to the ills of slavery, to the inhumanity of internment camps, to mass incarceration practices focused on poverty and race, as well as an immigration system with biases of faith and race which paints some as "rapists," "murders," "drug dealers," or "terrorists." It is time for us to learn from our past, to repent, to heal, and to move in the direction of justice.
There are many reasons families risk everything, including the lives of themselves and of their children, to make it over the border – desperation. They view this as their last chance to find safety and a brighter tomorrow. Out of their desperation these men, women, and children have come to us seeking refuge and will continue to cross our borders as they are already fearful of losing their families to hunger, sickness, trafficking, and more. Now without the hope of their children, desperation might sway into hopelessness, and there is no future without hope.
We have been failed on immigration reform by many administrations from President Clinton, to President Bush, to President Obama, and now more gruesomely this failure continues under President Trump.
Trump's effort to discourage illegal entry into the country has pushed us further away from the ideal of what we know as our aspirational America and has severely departed from previous policies that allowed minors to remain with their parents.
I have seen the cruelty of this first-hand, and I can’t go back!
I can't go back!
In 2014, I joined other United Methodist bishops and faith leaders at a detention center in McAllen, Texas. When we walked inside, I remember the shock of the frigid temperature of space that looked similar to a repurposed factory or warehouse. Filled with large cages that detained children as young as 3-years-old. These children were processed like criminals at the county jail or worse as animal livestock.
I can’t go back!
It took me several years to stop thinking about those images of children who escaped terrible environments in their homelands to arrive in our country only to be detained, caged, and in many cases returned to desperate situations.
There is nothing moral or Christian about separating children from their parents.
Just a few days ago I received an invitation to return to Texas and join others to bring prayer, Holy Communion, and compassion to children detained. I said, “No. I can't go back.”
I am unable to stomach the sight of such cruelty to children again. And I can admit that this, by far, is not one of my proudest moments as an American, as a pastor, but most importantly as a Christian. I bear scars from this, seeing such a sight, and can not imagine what scars will remain on the lives of these children.
I pray our hearts will be broken and that our Congress will act on behalf of the most vulnerable. But I can’t go back.
I will continue to work with faith and community leaders to encourage dialogue and promote action to find justice for these children and their families, as well as fixes for the brokenness of our immigration system.
I am also thankful for the leadership of the members of the 2018 Indiana Annual Conference who supported 2017 Resolution #5: Welcoming the Migrant in Our Midst. As adopted, this resolution reminds us, as lay and clergy members of the Indiana Conference, of our duty as Christians to be a voice for change and take action to call "upon our political leaders and policymakers to assure our laws affirm the worth, dignity, and inherent values and rights of immigrants and refugees."
We are better than this. Our children deserve to see us respond to these children (and their families) better than this.
We are still the country of dreams and are still the world's beacon that a richly diverse culture makes us stronger because we each have significant ethnic and cultural backgrounds of origin, yet we, ultimately, choose to be Americans.
“Allow the children to come to me,” Jesus said. “Don’t forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.” Then he blessed the children and went away from there. Matthew 19: 14-15 CEB
Bishop Julius C. Trimble