Unaccompanied Alien Children. That’s the official nomenclature assigned to some 12,000 minors held in custody by the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement (O.R.R.). And make no mistake about it: They are in custody, and are not being actively resettled anywhere except repurposed Walmart stores across more than a dozen states.
About five years ago, there was a dramatic surge in children arriving at the U.S.’s southern border. The majority of these came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; countries torn apart by corruption, poverty, and violence. Making the hazardous journey northward, these children fled for their lives.
It caused a humanitarian and economic crisis, as the U.S. system was overwhelmed with refugees. While the flood has subsided, O.R.R. centers continue to expand because of the recent policy of intentionally separating children from their parents.
This is done only to inflict emotional suffering – even on those who legally arrive at an approved Port of Entry seeking asylum – in an unconscionable effort to deter endangered families from traveling north. Instead of releasing minors to parents “without unnecessary delay,” as required, the O.R.R. is stockpiling Latino children, splitting families. It is immoral.
Yes, I know that such words will provoke a fair share of criticisms to my inbox, and I already know what the most common theme will be. It will be an accusatory question: “Why are you bringing politics into it? Stick with your usual devotional thoughts!”
But “politics” comes from a Greek word meaning “the people,” and it referred to how a populace organized their lives. “What is your politics?” was not answered with a voter card or by partisan affiliation. The question was deeper: “What ethic is most important to you and your neighbors?” Or, “What are your values as a community?”
I am “bringing politics into it,” but it is what John Howard Yoder called, “The Politics of Jesus.” It is the valuing of justice and mercy. It is a life of grace, welcoming the stranger and foreigner, and treating others as we would want to be treated. It is the intentional practice of sacrificial love.
“As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me,” Jesus said. “It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause a little one to stumble,” he declared. And when Jesus’ own followers (an irony that should not be missed in 21st century America), walled off the tired, poor, huddled parents from bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed, he rebuked them: “Let the children come to me! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
Cruelty is not required to secure a border, nor are the platitudes and swaggering calls for “law and order.” For the “whole Law is fulfilled in one statement: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ When you love your neighbor, you fulfill all the requirements of God’s law.”
Photo by Jesse Taylor