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Bordering on...

07-22-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Mass hysteria without borders about the Border seems to be the prevalent state of affairs.

My old teen-age heart-throb, Bethilda Bagshot, emailed me to demand that I firmly oppose the separation of parents and children at the border. So, I firmly oppose it. There, done, problem fixed. Actually, nothing has been solved nor will be by mass hysteria nor by finger-wagging or the tsk-tsk-tsk statements of many US Bishops. Pope Francis when asked about the problem, responded: “During the Obama years I celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juárez while on the other side of the border 50 bishops concelebrated and in the stadium there were many people. The problem already existed there. It’s not just an issue with Trump but goes back to prior governments.”

The Pope got it right when he said that this has been a long-term problem in the US and the program of separating minors from adults was started during the Obama administration.

Why did President Obama start this program that separated families? Was it because he was Stalin-Mao and Pol Pot all wrapped into one? Was he xenophobic or just couldn't stand people from Latin America? Hardly. He was handed a problem that had exploded almost over-night and was trying to do something about it. His Administration did not start out separating families, it was a Federal Judge who stepped in and said that minors could only be held in detention with their parents for a few days and then had to be released, with or without parents. That is the genesis of this mess. The Obama Administration found out that family separation wasn't workable and so instituted the “catch & release” policy that solved the separation problem but created other problems. By ending “catch & release” the current Administration brought things back to family separation and quickly learned the hard way that it is morally repugnant. 

Two questions really need to be asked: why is there such an explosion of families and unaccompanied minors showing up at the southern US border and who really has the power to do something about it?

The message has been sent to people, especially in troubled places like Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, if you show up at the US Border with children you are guaranteed to get to stay. Or if you send your minor children to the Border they will be allowed to stay. The people sending the message are often human traffickers or smugglers. So of course, they offer, for a large fee to get people to the border. What they don't tell them is that if they want to make an Asylum claim they can just present themselves at any US Port of Entry, ask for Asylum and they will not be turned over to the Dept. of Justice or separated from one another, but will be granted temporary legal status pending having their claim heard by an Immigration Court.

It seems that lots of people have rather romantic notions of people coming over the border seeking a better life in the US. While that is no doubt often the case, when you add in the reality of human smugglers, those romantic notions can actually be a much more sinister reality. That would include: child abduction, children being sold into child labor rings or being sold into child sex rings. Letting everybody in, no questions asked is fraught with potential human exploitation, which means we have a moral obligation to make sure that does not happen.

In order to do that,  officials have to determine if the adults with children are actually their parents and if not, they have to figure out if the parents have given their permission for their child to be brought to the US by the adult they are with. Another problem is that some children are with only one parent, so again officials have to determine if the other parent has consented to their child being brought to the US. (Remember the Elian Gonzalez case in the 90’s; we don't want more of that horror.) In the case of unaccompanied minors, we have to make sure that the family members they are being sent to in the US are actually able to take care of them and not abuse them. Unaccompanied minors are very vulnerable to exploitation and we need to do all we can to make sure they are safe and well cared for. There is also the question of public health. Large numbers of people arriving from very impoverished areas often suffer from diseases that we no longer see in the US so medical screening and care need to be considered as well.

Having a workable system that grants legal status to asylum seekers also allows them to get jobs and prevents unscrupulous employers from taking advantage of their undocumented status; be eligible for benefits and prevent welfare fraud; obtain legitimate I. D.s and Social Security numbers and help prevent identity theft. For the asylum seeker, legal status means not having to keep looking over their shoulder and fear deportation at any moment. This is why it is essential that a humane process be in place to sort out who’s who and efficiently and effectively adjudicate claims in a reasonable amount of time.

Who can fix the problem or at least lessen it? The US Congress. We can blame the President or the former President but they are limited by law as to what they can do. The Congress has the power to create a system that provides a humane and reasonable solution. But they haven’t done it for over 30yrs as they prefer to use the issue, which means using human lives on both sides of the border, as a political football to score points. But then again, to be fair, we the people have the power to stop the game.


Fr. John B.