Do we suffer from spiritual atherosclerosis, from turning our hearts to stone?
By now, everyone knows the photos, audios and videos that circulated last week of crying children being separated from parents at the U.S. border. Yes, the most famous image of a girl turned out not to be a separated child. However, since May, more than 2,300 children were indeed separated from their parents at the border with Mexico. While the separation policy was put in May, the crisis escalated June 11, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions ramped up the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and overturned asylum protections for victims of gang or domestic violence.
The U.S. bishops — later supported by Pope Francis — protested the move at their June 13-14 assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston joined Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, “in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexican border as an implementation of the administration’s zero tolerance policy.”
“Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.
“While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, N.J., called the separation policy “consistent with cardiosclerosis.”
Following the crying children came the finger pointing. President Trump took first blame. He, in turn, blamed Democrats: “(Democrats) don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13,” he wrote June 19.
The president then signed an executive order June 20, reversing the policy of separating children from adults, but this made no provision to reunite the children already separated and moved to facilities across the country.
This crisis is only the latest, and perhaps most visible, in an ongoing debate over immigrants and refugees. And not just in the U.S. In June 2016, anti-immigrant sentiment fueled Brexit, which will pull Britain out of the European Union by March 2019. In France, Marine Le Pen of the Front National vied with Emmanuel Macron for leadership last year on a strong anti-immigrant platform. And, on June 11, Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, banned the rescue ship “Aquarius,” with more than 600 African migrants aboard, from docking. (The ship was later welcomed in Spain.)
When we see pictures of children crying for parents and refusing to play with toys in detention centers, we should ask “Who is to blame?”
We could point the finger at many people and at any number of policies. We could even blame fear, as Pope Francis noted in his World Day of Migrants and Refugees’ homily on Jan. 14: “It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences. … These fears are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view. Having doubts and fears is not a sin.”
However, the pope didn’t stop there. Neither should we. No, Pope Francis added this warning:
“The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection. The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.”
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso echoed these words in a June 15 statement: “(I)f Jesus of Nazareth returned, … we dare say he would not get as far as Sacred Heart Church downtown (in El Paso) before being detained.”
So who is to blame, ultimately, when immigrant families are separated?
We are. We elect our leaders, and we approve our laws.
We separate families.
We need to realize that and change our ways, recognizing Christ in our brothers and sisters (and their children), lest we find our hearts turning to stone.