Senate border hearing must analyze the true humanitarian crisis

Senate border hearing must analyze the true humanitarian crisis
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As the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration holds another hearing on immigration at our southern border, senators should finally hold this administration accountable for its immoral, illegal treatment of asylum seekers and family separations.

The Trump administration has mishandled its responsibilities at the southern border and manufactured a humanitarian crisis. The administration has undercut our nation’s moral leadership by separating children from parents with no plan for how to reunite them, turning away asylum-seekers and otherwise undermining refugee protection.

During a hearing entitled “At the Breaking Point: The Humanitarian and Security Crisis at our Southern Border,” these are the “breaking points” and “crises” the subcommittee should examine.

The humanitarian crisis that Central American asylum seekers and others seeking protection are experiencing is profound, and the U.S. government’s dangerous, inhumane response further jeopardizes the lives of those looking for safety.

The fact is, it is legal to seek asylum wherever you feel safe and no matter how you enter the United States. So long as the administration fails to robustly address the root causes of displacement, families and individuals will continue to flee. 

An editorial from “America Magazine,” a leading journal of Catholic opinion, points out that the administration is wrongfully blaming the asylum process itself for the existence of displacement: “The practice of releasing asylum-seeking families with notices to appear in court, according to a new report from the Homeland Security Advisory Council, is supposedly the major ‘pull’ factor that brings mothers, fathers and children to the United States. To ‘fix’ this pull factor, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) recommends emergency legislation to allow longer detention of children when accompanied by parents.”

As “America Magazine” explains, the Trump administration’s response completely misdiagnoses the problem: “The notion that asylum seekers are traveling thousands of miles to exploit this so-called loophole is absurd. These migrants, increasingly from agricultural backgrounds, are not legal experts who have devised a way to crack our nation’s complex immigration system. They are desperately fleeing gang violence or dire poverty. Twelve-year-old girls are dismembered for not accepting the advances of gang members. Fathers’ lives are threatened for reporting police officers who rape their daughters.”

People are leaving because they have to. If we refuse to recognize and respond humanely to what is really happening, we will never be able to propose effective, moral solutions. 

The United States should prioritize expanding access to protection in the United States, welcoming those seeking safety, and improving conditions in their home countries so that people are no longer forced to flee.

After all, this is about basic humanity and inherent dignity of all God’s children.

By raising the specter of a “security crisis” at our southern border, this hearing plays into the administration’s characterization — and denigration — of the individuals arriving at our border.

The recent death of Juan de León Gutiérrez, yet another child who died in U.S. custody in recent months, further underscores how little value these policies have in ensuring that every person is treated with compassion and dignity in a safe, humane manner. 

The administration uses scare tactics to justify its fatal response and its demand for increased funding for border militarization. We cannot allow this to happen. 

Last week, Rev. Mark Seitz, Bishop of El Paso, testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Border Security, saying: "Our nation has had a long and proud history of providing humane treatment to and due process for asylum-seekers. I urge us to reject policies and proposals that would abandon this tradition, and I ask our government to remember that those fleeing to our border are not the 'other' but fellow children of God."

Our nation’s policies — and by definition, the leaders who create and implement them — need to recognize these individuals’ basic humanity.

Katie Adams is the policy advocate for domestic issues with the United Church of Christ and co-chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. The coalition is made up of 52 national, faith-based organizations promoting the rights, dignity and safety of refugees and migrants.