Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
July 30th, 2014

The Christian Response to the Border Crisis


Volunteers wash their hands before serving food to deported migrants at an aid center in Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Volunteers wash their hands before serving food to deported migrants at an aid center in Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Anyone audacious enough to claim a Christian response to the arrival of tens of thousands of immigrant children at the United States’ southern border should, at the very least, do several things.

First, they should acknowledge they do not and cannot possibly speak for all Christians. They should also admit to what is most likely a grossly incomplete grasp of the myriad political, social and cultural contexts of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other Central American countries from which many immigrants are coming. Finally, they should concede what is probably a very limited understanding of U.S. immigration policy.

With all that in mind, I will say that as someone who aspires to Christianity, I have been both completely disgusted and deeply moved by the reaction to these children.

It was beyond disgraceful to see opponents of their arrival, most notably in Murrieta, California, jingoistically chanting, “USA! USA!” and “Not our kids, not our problem!”

In a montage of clips from Fox News shown on “The Colbert Report,” a slew of pundits and members of Congress expressed bizarre and groundless concerns about the migrant children who, for all intents and purposes, are refugees. These included, amongst other anxieties and accusations, connections to Islamic terrorism and fears about their carrying the Ebola virus. Keep in mind that they were talking about children and, as Colbert noted, that Ebola has never appeared outside Africa.

On the other hand, many Americans, including several prominent religious leaders, have expressed outrage at the kind of activity seen in Murrieta.

“It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane,” wrote Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York.

In a Boston Globe article, Yusuf Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, said Massachusetts faces “a basic choice to be compassionate and hospitable to these immigrant children or to be callous and simply turn them away.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, described “the anger directed toward vulnerable children” as being “deplorable and disgusting” in a New York Times article.

“The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues,” he said, “these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

“The question for us,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Dallas’s Temple Emanu-El in the same article, “is: How do we want to be remembered, as yelling and screaming to go back, or as using the teachings of our traditions to have compassion and love and grace for the lives of God’s children?”

Though such unity from different religious communities may seem surprising in our increasingly polarized society, it is not difficult to see why support for migrants is imperative to people of faith. Time and again, tomes like the Torah and Bible stress the value of hospitality to “strangers.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 says, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” announces Jesus in Matthew 25:35.

Many religious communities have matched their words of support with action. For several years, Sister Simone Campbell and her fellow Nuns on the Bus have presciently and tirelessly stressed the need for immigration reform. In April, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and 12 bishops from three countries held a Mass and prayed for immigration reform on the United States’ side of the U.S.-Mexico border, with hundreds of people also partaking on the Mexican side. The aforementioned New York Times article reported a number of evangelical organizations penning a letter to members of Congress, voicing their objection to accelerated deportation of the refugees.

Critics will argue opening church doors, military bases, hotels, and homeless shelters to immigrants is not a permanent remedy. They are right. Ultimately, our country must truly confront the need for immigration reform and develop a sustainable and humane plan to deal with the arrival of migrants.

In the meantime, doing nothing is clearly inadequate and impossible. Given the sometimes violent circumstances from which these refugees fled, sending some children back to their homes is a near death sentence. So long as they are in the United States with an uncertain and convoluted future awaiting them, religious groups have come to see kindly caring for these refugees as their only option.

This is as it should be. For while people who subscribe to Christianity or any of the other major religions advocating sympathy towards migrants may lack complete comprehension of the dynamics of U.S. immigration or Central American politics, they do speak with the authority of their traditions. And these traditions are clear: compassion and a welcoming spirit are the only appropriate response to refugees.

Empathy alone will not solve the problem, but Jesus never told his followers to end poverty or injustice. He simply asked them to love the poor and suffering.

Is it a cure-all solution? Hardly. But love is never a bad way to begin.

The Author : Brian Harper
Brian Harper is a communications specialist for the Midwest Jesuits. He has lived in Peru, South Africa, and Italy, and his writing has been featured in America magazine, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and various other print and online publications. You can find his work at www.brianharper.net.
See more articles by (42).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • JuliePurple

    Just a heads up for any of you folks who watch Fox News and think it’s accurate. Do a bit of research on your own from reputable sources before believing any of what you hear from what I call Faux “News”.

    • gooder1

      Yes, all news outlets have their biases. It is hard to find one these days that does not favor one political party, or another. Fox tries to balance out all the other ones, and in doing so, overdoes it.

      • JuliePurple

        Oh, Gooder, please. “Tries to balance out”?? A better word for that is “lying”. To say it is just giving a balanced view is like saying that teaching creationism in science class is giving a balanced view. Yes, if you’re balancing accuracy with myth.
        You are absolutely right, if massively understating, when you say it overdoes it.

      • gooder1

        In the mornings I watch Fox News & Morning Joe on MSNBC. And believe me, they offset one another. I have yet to watch a national news broadcast that is not biased. Obviously I watch the local news, and they do a pretty good job, But the national network news programs put on a facade of professionalism, but are nevertheless still biased. The only national news program I actually like is The World Over on EWTN, but of course that is from a Catholic perspective. Other than that, you have to watch them all, and then take away whatever you can, if you choose to believe any of it.

      • JuliePurple

        Yes, they offset one another. But it would be a good idea to do a little fact checking before thinking that both are equally credible. For instance, Fox “News” seems to encourage the idea that climate change is not happening, and even if it were, it’s nothing that humans had anything to do with. This, despite the overwhelming majority of *credible* scientists (i.e., those not paid off nor hired by fossil fuel industries or that ilk) saying that climate change is, indeed, due to humans’ activities. That’s just one example. The thing is, if someone voices an opinion that goes counter to that of reliable sources, it’s good to check to see who pays for their air time. Just sayin’.

  • Sharon Fletcher

    Our Priest, Fr. Lincoln, spoke 2 weeks ago in Mass…at a predominantly Conservative and rather affluent congregation. I respect him so much that I listened…even though I did not want to. In the end, he asked us all to pray and read the Bible about this. The next week…the parable about the wheat and the weeds…thank you God for answering my prayers. I would have been one of the first to rip those weeds up…and to stand in Murrieta and Judge. The answer I got from God is the same he has told us over all the ages…It is not our place to judge…they will know we are Christians by our Love. Father’s talk and this parable changed this Flag waving, Conservative all American gal’s mind. I wonder if we took these kids in and showed them how much God loves us..mabey some of them could grow up to serve us, vote for Christian values, develop the next new cure, create the next new Microsoft or facebook or any of the other things this great country has given to the world. Perhaps we could show the world how we love.

  • http://breitbart.com smartypup

    this article is way off the mark. It is not Christian to break laws and to steal from taxpayers.
    So called “faith organizations” like Catholic Charities and Baptist Child and Family Services, have raked in hundreds of millions to pay for what the media keeps saying is only 50,000 kids. All you have to do is google “bcfs” and the HHS to see that they have taken in a whopping 300 million this year alone. They are running shelters, along with Catholic charities, Southwest Key ( a la Raza affiliate), making oodles of money. Who is paying? Middle class American taxpayers
    The truth is that our border is totally over run with illegal aliens. Most of them are not unaccompanied children, many are families and many are gangs. The gangs are recruiting inside the shelters.
    Your post is telling in how you find it insulting that American citizens are standing up against this mass invasion, which was ramped up by the Obama administration. So they shouted “usa, usa”. Where is your outrage that La Raza bussed in protestors there, burning the American flag and threatening Americans. In case you are unware, La Raza is a hispanic kkk operation, that is getting money rom our government. Their goal is to reconquest the Southwest.
    Do you really understand that Murietta has been a dumping ground for hundreds of illegals a week for many months now. Do you even know that the so called “shelter” in Murietta is a 5 bed/5 toilet facility. The BP takes them to these places, and then releases them into the public the next day! You seem to have zero compassion for people who are working hard to pay for their families, many fellow Americans have struggled to find jobs. We have many children, elderly and Veterans in poverty, wating
    In fact, the DHS planned for this back in January, with a request for bids on a contract to provide escorts for “up to” 65,000 unaccompanied minors. This is no coincidence.

  • Glenn T Jones

    Thank you Brian for taking the time to speak out. I really thought I was going insane and was in complete disbelief when I saw the outpouring of hatred. Ive seen some from our faith community threaten to overthrow our local Bishop for providing food and shelter to these children.

    • gooder1

      This is a good article. The only thing I don’t understand is how can a mother or father send her/his child almost 2000 miles without them. My goodness, these children are going to be seriously abused. They will end up in prostitution, drug running, drug selling, or living a homeless life. So … what is wrong with their parents? That is my question. I personally believe that within literally hours of watching their children drive off with whomever, the parents quickly fell into the state of deep regret for what they did, and are hoping beyond hope that their children will be returned to them. But many know that they will never see their children again, ever. Wow.

      • JuliePurple

        To castigate the parents because the children arrive at our borders without them just seems really unfair.
        Something to remember about those kids is that we don’t know the circumstances of their departure. Were they orphaned? Were their parents imprisoned? Were the parents physically unable to leave and sent their children away as the only hope for the children’s survival? Did the family start out together, but the parents died along the way or were killed? Were they being charged a huge fee to escape, and could not afford for the entire family to go, so gave up their hope of freedom so the children could have it?
        People don’t become refugees because they are looking for fun. Most really love their homeland, and only leave because their situation is desperate. How much more desperate it must be for them to send their children off alone, if that is what happened?
        That’s the thing here. We don’t know the circumstances. And we have no right to judge.

      • gooder1

        Hi Julie,

        I asked a very reasonable question, and I as a parent do not know how anyone could do such a thing. To me these poor children are being used by the political organizations as campaign fodder. I find it shameful for the press in our country continue to go along with the political angling instead of covering the real stories about these children: who they are? Under what circumstances have they left? Where are their parents? Etc. I find it hard to believe that over 60,000 children been sent thousands of miles from orphanages. I ask a reasonable question: where are their parents? And why would they do this? When children are young, you stay together, you travel together. If you want your children to go to the USA, then go with them.

      • http://breitbart.com smartypup

        I have news for you, the vast majority of the individuals coming over are not children. There are many women and children, and their are many gangs. the gangs are recruiting inside shelters. Border Patrol is the diaper patrol.
        This is not going to stop. I hope you are ready for your communities to be inundated with hundreds, for your social services, schools, jails and police to be overwhelmed. Because that is what is happening. And it is by design. The feds are secretly dumping groups in the hundreds all over the country.
        It is way more than 50,000. The facts are all there for you to see. Meanwhile, fake charities like bcfs, and charities like Catholic Charities, are getting paid big bucks, like in the hundreds of millions, to take care of a so called 50,000.
        It is all an outrage, and people need to wake up. It is not Christian like in any fashion. The media is covering this up for Obama and the ruling elite in both parties. Dems want voters, Republicans want to please their big business masters for cheap labor.
        American middle class will suffer.

      • gooder1


        At present we have children traveling 2000 miles up from central America to enter into the USA.The response of the USA is a president who is trying to use this sad situation to garner votes for the Democrats in November. On the other side we have Republicans afraid to act in any way as they wince at whether or not their decision will cost them seats in November. In total we have a president, a senate, and a house of representatives all using this sad situation for political gain. In the meantime, we have literally babies and teenagers coming in to the USA all alone. If we don’t recognize that, we are no better than Obama and the Congress. So let’s not throw grenades at these kids, but work for change. I know about Guatemala and poverty. I currently sponsor a young child in that country so to get her through school. It is the least I can do. As for Catholic Charities, well they are currently looking for homes for these children, and they will pay those taking in children a monthly disbursement for their costs. I myself have to look a little closer at this to better inform myself. But I am still asking the question, why isn’t the press in our country asking the real questions: why are these children coming here, and where are their parents? And Phil, the world we are living in is 30 times more dangerous than it was back when Ellis Island was processing immigrants. In our day, drug dealers and prostitution rings will grab these kids, and destroy their lives.

      • http://breitbart.com smartypup

        Do good. Thx for your reply. Please see my stand alone comment. This president has caused this crisis purposefully. We need to ask what type of ruthless individual would encourage children and families to risk life and limb, many at the hands of drug cartels and traffickers, and to encourage such chaos at the border. His wife was out there last week along with other bad people publicly encouraging these migrants to come up here!
        Secondly you mention Catholic charities is paying foster families. No, they are government contractors using taxpayer dollars. I would say blowing taxpayer dollars as they admit to paying out up to 7000 $ a month to these families! This entire scheme is sickening.
        I am currently working on an amnesty bubble chart to show the unbelievable Web of deceit, cronyism and corruption that is going on with this scheme. It is the combination of progressivism/leftist sick fantasy of total domination and undermining of our rule of law and just plain unadulterated greed.
        The author of this post has bought into Obama ‘ s falsehoods. Have you?
        The best thing we could do is to make it clear to these countries that they will NOT get amnesty and they are not welcome to invade our border. Stop the madness now.
        The children are political pawns in a very cold hearted scheme. Obama should be impeached and it may happen regardless of the sycophant media’s attempt to push his lies and cover up his corruption.
        The children btw are being cared for at great expense. Perhaps you are not aware of Baptist child and family services (bcfs), another fake charity, attempting to buy a 50 million dollar resort in Texas to house them. Please do some research also on who is actually coming here. There are thousands of gang members and entire families. We are expected to pay for all of it!

      • gooder1

        I am not arguing with you that our president as well as the congress are using this crisis for political gain. You said what kind of president would encourage children and families to risk life and limb at the hands of the drug cartels? Indeed, you have no argument from me. My only point was that just as our president and the congress are using these kids to make political points, attempting to win votes in November, then if we start using these same kids to make our own points, then we are no better than this president and the congress. In doing so, we as well lower ourselves to their same self centered standards. As a citizen of the USA, the only power you have politically, is to call and write all your representatives to complain, and then vote accordingly in November. In the meantime, however, neither I, nor you, have the power to stop this thing. But we do have the power to act in a Christian manner towards these children. My hope is that they will at some point be returned to their parents where they belong.

      • Phil Fox Rose

        gooder1, I understand your reaction, but realize that when you say “If you want your children to go to the USA, then go with them,” you are assuming these parents have certain freedoms — both physical and financial. Many have the opportunity to create even the possibility for a better life for one person, so they give that possibility to their child, rather than going themselves. It is out of love, not disregard, that they send the child alone. This is nothing new. The very first immigrant to arrive and be processed at Ellis Island was an unaccompanied minor.

  • Greg Araujo

    it was the obama administration that manufactured this problem by hinting at amnesty for the illegals. I say grant them a meal before showing them the door. We have enough problems of our own to deal with without taking in that of others.

powered by the Paulists