A recent panel offered members of our retirement community yet another bit of evidence that the American people are not only compassionate but also committed to standing for the just rights of those who have born the savage whips of oppression. As we have long since known, among the refugees seeking the safety we have promised, the wretched of the earth are those who have faced merciless persecution and even death threats from Central American criminals and the despots who support them.
Along our southern border, in addition to the hundreds of ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) officers, and the even more numerous border patrol agents, there are other Americans who seek to provide safe, temporary shelters for refugee families – mostly mothers with young children. Fathers and other mature males are abruptly turned away. Even many mothers and children, who arrive here, are sent back.
Those who may have welcoming relatives somewhere in the United States are incarcerated until that contact can be verified. Refugees are required to wear GPS ankle bracelets even after they arrive at their new legal locations. While they are at the border, volunteers provide them with clothes, three meals a day and other necessities, and transportation to the bus station, train depot or airport. These volunteers most often come from Catholic parishes near the border cities. Other than the federal officers, from whom they often receive harsh treatment, these volunteers are the first Americans the refugees will encounter, and if they view America as a friendly and compassionate place, that recognition comes from these volunteers. While others who claim to act out of their religious motivations might reject these refugees and call for their prompt deportation, these Christians believe that kindness, benevolence and hospitality define the ways Jesus wants his followers to act.
One night, a pregnant woman was brought by taxi to a shelter. The next morning, the taxi driver who brought the expectant mother the night before appeared at her door. “I just wanted to be sure she is OK,” he said. I believe that at heart, this is the way most Americans feel about the outsiders they encounter, and a religious background has often helped to shape this attitude.
For many years Protestant churches and others have placed and serviced large water barrels throughout the desert from the border to Tucson. These barrels are identified by blue flags floating high above the barrels’ locations. Wendy and I have helped service these life-saving facilities, as well as clearing the discarded materials left by those migrants walking through.
Critics of Humane Borders – the organization responsible for the barrels – complain that supplying water to immigrants encourages this illegal activity. But those who continue to offer life-saving water do so because, without it, many more will die en route. Jesus commissioned his followers to give a cup of water in his name. Why they are thirsty doesn’t seem to matter. (Even with this life-saving activity, every year, scores of migrants die while attempting to cross that harsh terrain.)
If what I have reported is going on all across our southern frontier, it says far more about the American spirit than does the attitude and action of a President and his bitter followers who just want to keep “them” out of our country by erecting a massive multi-billion-dollar wall. Every President leaves behind monuments that will be remembered long after they leave office. If, in a few decades, Donald Trump is remembered by a great concrete barrier, any decent thing he might have done will fade into oblivion. If this monument to bigotry finally gets built, the hope is that someone will come along with the courage to say what Ronald Reagan said to Gorbachev, “Tear down this wall.”
It does not represent who we really are, and its construction would bring shame on every American citizen.