IM4HI Vision

Reframing the Border Crisis: Compassion and Dignity Now


Photo: School of the Americas Watch, Encuentro at the Border 2017

by Rev. Deborah Lee & Cecilia Vasquez

As people of faith, we believe that people everywhere must have the fundamental human rights to land, economic security, health, education, and dignity.  People should have the right to migrate and the right to stay home. 

Recently the news has been filled with headlines stirring up familiar tropes and fears of an invasion of non-white immigrants at our southern border.   Some are politically using vulnerable immigrants to create a “crisis” at the US-Mexico border. The real crisis is not at the border, but rather the global context that forces people to migrate.  Inequality, climate change, neoliberal economic policies, and militarization are the root causes of poverty and migration in much of the world. In order to address any problem systemically, we must address the root causes, particularly as defined by indigenous people, women’s groups, and grassroots communities on the ground.  We must acknowledge what has been the role of the US government and corporations in exacerbating the problem. We must address root causes with co-responsibility, collective action, and community care so people aren’t forced to migrate.

This Could Be Done Differently

 As a country, we have enough resources to welcome new immigrants and respond in a humane, responsible, and compassionate manner. The Biden Administration promised to restore asylum rights and have a different approach to refugees and migrants. But in March, 17,345 people who came to the border as part of a family were expelled, a full third of all families.  Although President Biden has ceased the Trump practice of expelling unaccompanied children which was blocked by the courts last November, he has failed to rescind Title 42, which was invoked by the Trump administration to use the pandemic as an excuse to expel anyone arriving and seeking asylum.  The continued practice of Title 42 has forced some families to separate at the border leaving some to become “unaccompanied minors.” The label “unaccompanied minors” is misleading. In fact 90% of so-called unaccompanied minors have family members already in the US with whom they plan to reunite. The longstanding practices of Customs and Border Patrol, has led to making children “unaccompanied,” by failing to recognize other trusted family members with whom they are travelling as family.  

We believe there is another way.  The Biden Administration is seeking to create “influx centers,” another name for massive child detention facilities.  Our countries’ history of separating families and warehousing children goes back to the genocidal policies towards indigenous and Black communities. Immigrant children have been subject to it since.   

Detention in large scale influx facilities is not the solution now, not during a pandemic, and not ever. Health professionals and child welfare advocates are clear that such settings which deprive children of their freedom are inherently harmful to children for any amount of time.  Evidence suggests that  children housed in these situations face severe trauma and  “will likely suffer acute, sustained, and even permanent impacts to their minds and bodies.” These “emergency influx shelters” are part of decades of policies under Republican and Democratic administration to criminalize versus humanize migrants.  The top priority must be non-detention solutions which rapidly reunite children with their parents, trusted caregivers or family members must be the top priority.  The Biden administration must rescind Title 42 and apply financial resources to more rapidly vet and process children to get them out of detention and reunite them with their families.

We Can Respond with Compassion

We have more than enough resources to approach this in a different way. The question is, “Do we have enough courage and heart?”  If we are courageous we can do the right thing and respond with compassion. We can reimagine our current system of detention and deportation by responding with collective action and community care to welcome people in safe and dignified ways. We have organized and witnessed the ability of communities to come together to support and accompany newly arrived immigrants seeking safety in the US as an alternative to family separation and detention.  With redirected government resources, this could meet the need and be even more impactful.   

We need to commit to the core values of human dignity and  freedom, that no one belongs in cages.  But that everyone deserves communities of care and welcome and support that they need to fully thrive.

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