As President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday reversing his administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, local faith leaders said the policy of holding children, some of whom are seeking asylum, is morally wrong.
“It’s in contrast to the overall message of Scripture that children are to be loved and protected and cared for, and that we should love our neighbors,” said John Sowers, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church. “That’s one of the essential tenets of Jesus.”
In recent days, religious leaders around the U.S. and world condemned President Donald Trump’s decision to separate and keep children from their parents at the southern border. They include leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the United Church of Christ, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and 27 Jewish organizations including the Orthodox Union.
The practice was the result of a policy decision to criminally prosecute adults crossing the border illegally, even if they had children with them or were seeking asylum.
Wednesday’s executive order said families should be detained together “to the extent permitted by law” except when the Department of Homeland Security has a concern that keeping a child with parents would post a risk to the child’s welfare.
Bishop Thomas Daly of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane said keeping families together was an improvement and said he believed the denunciations from Evangelical and Catholic churches were responsible in part for the change.
But, he said, a true solution must consider why so many people are fleeing from Central American countries and the violence these families face in their home countries.
“I would hope that in all of this discussion, we look at the conditions in these countries where people feel they must leave. I think that’s kind of been bypassed,” he said.
Like many religious leaders, Daly said concern and care for children is a fundamental part of their faith.
“Fundamentally, the Catholic Church believes in the sanctity of life, the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. We care about children in the womb, we care about children when they’re born, we care about children when they’re growing older,” he said.
For Pastor Walter Kendricks at Morning Star Baptist Church, the policy of separating and detaining children echoes back to some of the darker moments in American history.
“I don’t care how many people are trying to get into the country. That’s irrelevant as far as separating children from their parents but it’s in our history. We did it in slave days. We did it to the Native Americans. We did it to the Japanese,” he said.
He said the U.S. has “lost our way” and criticized Trump administration officials who used a passage in the Letter to the Romans to justify the policy.
The verse, which says, “The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves,” was used to argue against the American Revolution and to defend slavery.
“You can’t take one portion of Scripture, as Jeff Sessions did, to defend an indefensible position. You have to look at the total character of God,” Kendricks said.
Spokane’s Muslim community is also opposed to both separating families and the overall treatment of immigrants and refugees on the southern border, said Rasheed Bellamy, president of Muslim Community Action and Support.
He said the concept of migration is fundamental in the Quran, which refers to migration as hijra.
“If you are living in a place where you’re oppressed … you should be able to move throughout the land, and the Quran references times when people have had to make that hijra,” Bellamy said.
He said a “zero tolerance policy” for illegal border crossings does not absolve the U.S. of the responsibility to treat people humanely or to consider how to help people seeking asylum and refuge.
“The family unit is considered to be a very sacred unit, and so to intentionally separate that or to break that apart is definitely seen as a detriment, not only to that specific family but as a detriment to society as a whole,” Bellamy said.
Sowers said detaining families together was not the solution.
“To see them imprisoned, even as family units, doesn’t seem to be significantly more humane,” Sowers said. “It would not be the kind of thing that I think Jesus would welcome.”
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