Politics & Policy

Bordering on Inhumanity

(Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
The border crisis demands clear political and policy thinking — but also love.

‘Perhaps the Catholic church would volunteer to pony up some cash for the illegals care then? Hmm?”

“Pope should stay out of it. Matter of civil laws, not church laws.”

“Thinking that the pope should want the illegals to go to Argentina to get better soccer players for World Cup.”

Those were just three of the tweets I was tagged in in response to a headline on Pope Francis calling so many of us out of our indifference.

Based on some of the reaction, you would have thought Pope Francis himself was giving unaccompanied minors rides into the United States in his popemobile, encouraging the dangerous journey and adding to the chaos at the end of the road. Headlines certainly don’t always help matters. The aforequoted tweeters were reacting to this one: “Pope Francis calls on U.S. to welcome illegal immigrants.” His actual message, though, wasn’t a call to abolish borders and law, but to see the humanity, for goodness’ sake.

What this shepherd of what is, as it happens, the leading charitable organization in the world said was: People of good will cannot tolerate a “throwaway culture.” This is no new plea from Francis; it has been a leading theme of his papacy. We so often don’t even look at the man next to us on the elevator or realize that there is a woman with a whole life story behind us at the cash register as we buy water at the local convenience store. So, of course, even as we see photos and footage of children and women and men showing up on our border in search of a better life — in what is clearly both a humanitarian crisis and a political headache — they are abstract to most of us at best. In a message to a conference on migration in Mexico, Pope Francis urged our attention: “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization . . . towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”

He specifically addressed our current border situation: “I would also like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence.” They have largely made the trip, he wrote, from Central America and Mexico “under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain. They are increasing day by day.” He described it as a “humanitarian emergency” that “requires, as a first urgent measure, that these children be welcomed and protected.”

Now, before you start agreeing with my tweeters, read on. “These measures, however,” Pope Francis continues, “will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.”

Instead of demanding that the U.S. open its borders to whomever, whenever, the pope implored that “this challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted.”

Or as John Wester, the bishop of Salt Lake City, put it succinctly: “Yes, laws must be observed, but the real issue is, what can we do to help the children?”

We live during a time when our senses are overloaded and our attention spans for other people’s problems can be short. But the situation on our border — like much in the news, when you strip away the noise — is about people we have a responsibility to; fellow human beings in a country that has much, even as we aren’t always good stewards of the gifts we have been given.

We’re talking about people who decided — or were told — that their best chance for hope in their lives was coming here. At the very least, we can show them love, which is not a government program or a political platform. It is Americans opening their homes to give a brother or sister a place to feel safe. 

Members of Sacred Heart parish in McAllen, Texas, are among those who have been rising to that challenge — and before the television cameras showed up. Whatever it was that brought this influx of migrants here, they are here. And, as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention put it in a rallying cry to fellow Christians, we are supposed to be “people of justice and mercy.” “As Christians,” he wrote, “we don’t have to agree on all the details of public policy to agree that our response ought to be, first, one of compassion for those penned up in detention centers on the border.”

As Pope Francis did last year during a Mass for people who had fled the “Arab Spring” in Egypt — many of them dying along the way — Moore pointed to the Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho in the New Testament. “The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable (Lk. 10:27–37) has every reason to be afraid on the Road to Jericho. The presence of a beaten man tells him there are robbers around, potentially hiding in the caves around him. Fear, though, is cast out by love; love is not cast out by fear.”

We fear, among other things, of course, that our country can’t sustain this. That’s certainly true, and this crisis point is a wake-up call and a scandal, exposing layers of incompetence, lawlessness, and indifference in our government and culture when it comes to immigration. It’s an issue that’s used as a political battering ram, even as pastors who see the human fallout daily have long pled for civic responsibility and human decency.

“Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble,” the recently canonized Saint John Paul II wrote in 1996. “For Christians, the migrant is not merely an individual to be respected in accordance with the norms established by law, but a person whose presence challenges them and whose needs become an obligation for their responsibility. ‘What have you done to your brother?’ The answer should not be limited to what is imposed by law, but should be made in the manner of solidarity.”

Oh, Brother, help us, if we cannot see through to the heart and the urgency. Our laws, our rhetoric, our indifference — and our Twitter reflexes — are not worthy of who we say we are as Americans.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Onlineand founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.




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