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Jun 22, 2018 | James Abernathey

Separated Families Call Us to Our Baptismal Promises

Separated Families Call Us to Our Baptismal Promises


“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”                                           BCP pages 294 & 305

In 2012, I began a Master of Liberal Studies program at Rice University, a four-year process designed for students who already have a variety of academic and life experiences. One of the requirements for the degree is a “Capstone” – a shorter version of a thesis.

My Capstone was on a subject I thought was worthy and timely: minor children, accompanied and unaccompanied, illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In the course of my research, in 2016, I made a field trip, spending three days at the epicenter of the influx at McAllen, Texas. I interviewed border patrolmen, civic officials, non-government officials with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, and the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen. I also visited a processing center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen.

What I saw and learned changed me.

Although the crossings are along the U.S.-Mexico border, very few of the people taking those risks are Mexican. The great majority come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which border Mexico on the south and which, especially in their northern regions, have lost civil order control to drug interests and criminal gangs. The environment is seen as hopeless as the countries are impoverished and those who may be regularly employed make about $4 (US) per month. The gangs (notably MS-13) recruit actively among the youth and offer $10 or more per day, with the threat that refusal means death for the entire family. Desperate parents (mostly mothers) have no recourse but to flee, and the only destination offering any chance at hope is the United States. The “Coyotes” offer guidance through Mexico and typically charge fees of $6,000 - $8,000 per individual.

And so they come. The entire story has led me to some conclusions. As Christians, it seems to me that our own Baptismal Covenant requires us to (a) try to restore some dignity, since those arriving have been stripped of theirs. They have little or no money; are exhausted and dirty; and do not speak the language or really know where they are; (b) to welcome these strangers who are not only our brothers and sisters, but are also brothers and sisters in the faith; (c) to work cooperatively with Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador (and as peers) to gain control over international criminal elements; and (d) to provide assistance to these impoverished and corrupted countries to gain control over their own civil order and borders.

This will require movement from everyone, internally and externally. It will cost money. Since the United States is the strongest and wealthiest of the five, I believe that some kind of initiative similar to the Marshall Plan (that helped rebuild Europe after World War II) would be in order. Also, the U.S. currently has more than 11 million illegal migrants, many of whom have been resident for a generation or more. We are not going embark on some sort of draconian kind of round-up of these people, if we could find them. There is no solution to this situation that can be proposed, which would be “fair.” We can formulate a new framework for border and immigration control, but for those here, and who have been here, it will require a one-time suspension regarding them. Admittedly, this would be unfair to those following legal procedures, but I see no other acceptable way.

It will also require honest grappling, especially in the United States and Mexico, with some uncomfortable legacies. In Mexico, there remain deep-rooted colonial carryovers of a culture of padrones and peons, and issues that sparked Mexican revolution are still present. I grew up in South Texas, and we have our own residuals of attitudes hostile to Mexicans, which viewed them as lazy, servile and inferior. Past slights, real or imagined, remain long in collective memories and must be addressed honestly.

Finally (and as Christians), our main responsibility is faith-based. As our own late suffragan, Bishop Anselmo Carral, used to say (he was Cuban): “I am a child of God, so I am not an “alien” anywhere on earth!”

We cannot hold minor children responsible for their parents’ decisions and certainly cannot use them, in any way, as pawns in a political struggle, and the parents’ decisions are open to be understood and supported.

The people who operated the Underground Railroad were breaking the law, and those who hunted them were the law-abiding. The people who sheltered Anne Franke were breaking the law, and the people who found her and killed her were the law-abiding. The “sit-ins” of the 1960’s broke the trespass laws and other duly-enacted ordinances, and the local police were enforcing the law.

Am I advocating law-breaking? Not at all – but Christians look to a higher standard. We have been baptized.

And the people say: “I will, with God’s help.”