Love of Neighbor: Immigrants, Refugees, and National Security


Photo Credit: The Newyoker

Being on summer vacation, and having being situated in Washington D.C. I have the opportunity to contemplate the reality that surrounds me and I reflect upon my resolve to make a congruent response to those who are placed on my path. I would like to reflect upon the current issues of immigration and national security in light of the executive orders of President Trump regarding refugees and immigration, and the current perspective of his administration regarding those that are most vulnerable in our society.

The recent actions and priorities that President Trump and his administration have made during these first few months of Presidency have been a sign of hope for many, however, I cannot help feeling troubled by the various decisions regarding our department of defense, and the insensitive and inhumane targeting of refugees and immigrants in this country.  I affirm President Trump’s efforts and faithfulness to the anti-abortion groups in the United States regarding federal defunding of abortion and abortion providing companies such as Planned Parenthood in the FY2018 Budget and his efforts with an executive order to prevent human trafficking.

These victories must be recognized, however, we cannot be indifferent to the needs of those who are neglected and rejected in our society, namely, the millions of immigrant families and the thousands of refugees that seek to escape their homelands for survival. Most reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin and Chair of the USCCB committee on Migration issued a statement on March 6th which he stated,

Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops reaffirm their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in defense of vulnerable persons.

As a Catholic, I cannot ignore the current events that are affecting our brothers and sisters in need. There are many people who continue repeating the phrase “Build the Wall” in support of President Trump’s policies. When I hear this expression, my mind is flooded with the faces of refugee children afraid and desperate, of the maimed man who crossed the border and now works 16 hours a day for his family, and the countless mothers who labor in the fields and factories to provide for their children. This slogan does not inspire patriotism in me, it inspires sadness for our fellow human family that struggles for survival and are stigmatized.

How did the image of a terrorist-immigrant fill the mind and hearts of so many Americans, so many Catholics? How is it that so many are unable to ground their political radicalism with the reality that 11 million immigrants and their families live and work peacefully side-by-side them every single day? Why are so many obsessed with protection from terrorists, that they are blinded by the injustices and violations against human dignity just south of our borders? This phrase doesn’t demand protection, it screams selfishness and indifference to those who suffer. It is like a moral thermometer that reveals where many American’s stand in solidarity with those who suffer outside and inside of our country. I cannot forget about those who are abandoned and rejected, such as refugees and immigrants.

According to a series of analyses completed by the American Immigration Council, the cumulative data continues to demonstrate that native-born citizens have a higher criminal rate and incarceration percentage than illegal immigrants living in the U.S. In addition to this, the research efforts of Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) indicate that immigration has been at its all-time low since the 70’s, and the most recent group of immigrants crossing the border are unaccompanied children seeking refuge, especially from Central America.

According to the 2016 National Drug Threat Summary issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration, the majority of illegal drug smuggling occurs at legal ports of entry, not through barren deserts on the U.S.-Mexico border. Building a wall is a costly evasion dressed as a solution to the deeper humanitarian problem of migration. Many Americans are convinced that “building the wall” is going to fortify America’s national security, however, it seems that what Americans really desire is a “wall” that keeps them safe and comfortable from being exposed to the cruel reality that our neighbors endure just south of our borders. We should be shouting that we want to “Build hope!” or “Build Solidarity!” by creating a due process for immigrants and responding maturely to the humanitarian problem that is occurring in Latin America.

I understand why this phrase “Build the Wall” has gained so much popularity. It encourages an easy and comfortable resolution for a serious problem.  It is easy to generalize the profile “immigrant” and allow it to become the scapegoat for our fears and insecurities. However, it is time to stop hiding behind fears and obsession with National Security and embrace the facts that the immigrant is not the enemy, that we must reach out in solidarity to those who are in need with a helping hand.

In the winter of 2014 I had the opportunity of visiting Mexico City where I spoke with various members of an international organization called Dignidad y Solidaridad A.C. (Literally Dignity and Solidarity). There I learned truly horrifying stories about Central American immigrants’ journey to cross the southern Mexican border: women and children are raped and abused by authorities, they are separated from their loved ones, and unjustly incarcerated in many circumstances. These are the struggles before even approaching the US-Mexico border.

In the summer of 2015 I had the opportunity of working in the blueberry and blackberry fields of Northwestern Oregon. I visited a ca20151001_172748000_iOSmp where these workers live and I met a man from Puebla, Mexico. He lost his arm by a failed attempt to jump onto the infamous train known as la Bestia (the beast) and left four young children with his wife in Mexico. This man worked long and hard, alone, maimed, but with a driving passion to make money so that his children can have a better life than he did. It is this man’s face that I see flashed before my eyes when I hear the crowds chanting “Build the Wall.”

Testimonies like these help me to realize that “building the wall” is simply a superficial band-aid that attempts to cover an open wound in the mind and hearts of Americans. A wound caused by loss through terrorism, and pain by the struggles of our fellow neighbors who are desperately fighting to survive amid hostile environments and injustice. “Building the Wall” may cover the wound, but it will not heal it. “Building the wall” may appease our fear of terrorism, but it will not stop terrorism, nor will it solve the great efforts of those who leave everything to enter into the United States for refuge. At the end of the day we are still forced to face the gripping reality and respond; perhaps instead of building the wall we should place our efforts in addressing the root causes of the security problems we face.