By JIM McKEEVER
I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. — Matthew 25:35.
On April 15, the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University hosted a dialogue, “Immigration Challenges and Choices: People, Principles, and Policies.” The hourlong presentation was recorded and can be viewed online.
The panelists — a Catholic bishop, an Evangelical minister, a journalist and a DACA recipient — offered their perspectives on immigration, refugees, xenophobia, race-based violence and asylum.
They stressed a humanitarian approach to addressing a global reality that is thousands of years old, and is drawing attention again at the United States’ southern border.
The current situation at the southern border with Mexico represents “a pivotal moment in our country,” said the Rev. Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Presbyterian pastor in Charlottesville, Va.
The Rev. Kim, whose father fled Communist China for South Korea before emigrating to the United States, pointed out that the Bible “is a story of migration. … Essentially to be a Christian is to be a migrant. … It’s also a call to be hospitable, to extend hospitality to those who are migrating.”
Journalist Sabrina Rodriguez said the Biden administration had pledged to create a fair and humane immigration system, but “saying it and doing it are two very different things. There are very real challenges to accomplishing that.”
The administration has made some changes, including discontinuing the Migrant Protection Protocols. About 6,500 of the 25,000 MPP enrollees, some of whom have been waiting for more than two years in Mexico, have been admitted to the U.S., Rodriguez said. Other groups of migrants from all over the world, including Central America, are fleeing their countries for various reasons — crime, lack of jobs, the pandemic and the devastation of hurricanes.
Rodriguez said the number of migrants arriving at the border has increased since April 2020, but there are nuances that are often overlooked. Most families who attempt to cross are sent back to Mexico, she said, but often the next step is to send their children across on their own. This inflates the numbers of apprehensions cited by government officials and has resulted in an increase in unaccompanied minors — many of them who have relatives in the U.S.
Bishop Mark Seitz, who has been in El Paso for eight years, noted that politicians “fall into place” and say the same things every time the border is in the news. “Maybe it’s time to stop politicizing these issues and begin Christianizing them,” Seitz said. “People are at our door and they are begging to come in for refuge.”
The bishop urged people to learn why migrants are coming to the U.S. southern border, what countries they are coming from and what situations they are fleeing, especially in Central America.
Bishop Seitz was asked about the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, in which a white nationalist drove hundreds of miles to El Paso because he was upset by the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The 21-year-old shot and killed 22 people and injured 26 others, many of whom had Latino surnames.
“I don’t think there’s any question that racism plays a role here,” Seitz said. “One message we often give to politicians is watch your language” and stop using fear-mongering words like criminals and invasion that appeal to fear, as well as to the racism that has been a part of this country since its beginnings.
“This attitude is death-dealing,” Seitz said. “It has an impact.”
Loren, a Georgetown University student and DACA recipient, said her family came to the U.S. from Colombia when she was 3. The economy was bad, and it was dangerous where they lived. It wasn’t until she was a freshman in high school in Boston that she learned of her immigration status and that of her parents. She has younger brothers who were born in the U.S.
“I constantly struggle with being stuck between two countries,” Loren said. “I want to tell my story as often as possible, to let others know they’re not alone.”
Two months ago, Loren’s parents contracted COVID as front-line workers in the food industry. They have since recovered.
Rodriguez, who writes about immigration for POLITICO, urged people to listen to people who live and work near the border and to listen to immigrants who have been in the U.S. for years as well as new arrivals.
“It is really essential that we humanize this reality,” Bishop Seitz said. “That we listen to those who are experiencing it … to hear the stories, to understand that these aren’t just numbers, they are real human beings, brothers and sisters.”
Ultimately, Seitz said, we’re going to need the courage to think beyond “the narrow confines of, ‘How do we enforce our law?’ without really asking whether the law and its consequences are moral in the first place.”
Moderator Kim Daniels asked Rev. Kim to discuss the recent increase in physical attacks on Asian-Americans. He cited the case of the woman assaulted in New York City, when three men at a nearby luxury apartment did not help the woman and a security guard closed the doors.
Such “bystander apathy” happens too often, he said. “Do not close the door and turn away. …
“No one can do everything,” Kim said. “But everyone can do something. So choose some thing.”
The Rev. Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Presbyterian pastor in Charlottesville, Va.
Sabrina Rodriguez, journalist with POLITICO.
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, which borders Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Loren, a student at Georgetown University and a DACA recipient.
Moderator Kim Daniels, co-director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University.
The initiative will host a followup program May 4, featuring Sister Norma Pimentel, a nun who works with migrants at the southern border.
Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency.