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.



Compassion and the FY2018 Budget

Photo Credit: Washington Examiner

On May 23rd, there was a Press Briefing for the Budget of the U.S. government for the new fiscal year. Director John Michael Mulvaney briefly articulated the various elements of the budget and answered questions about this new development from President Trump’s administration. Just like all of the past movements of this administration, there is plenty of noise in favor and against this budget plan with its major cuts for healthcare and education, especially toward programs that assist underprivileged citizens of the country, to the $52 billion increase for the Department of Defense.

During the briefing, Director Mick Mulvaney mentioned that he received questions about compassion on an off-camera briefing about the FY2018 budget the day before. This comment is very interesting because there is no mention of the word “compassion” in any of the questions posed to Director Mulvaney. However, there were many questions about the impact that the budget would have on many families in America regarding the healthcare, immigration, and education policy reforms. In the briefing on May 23rd, Director Mulvaney pre-emptively defended himself and the Trump administration and clarified that the budget plan is an act of compassion for tax-paying Americans. He stated:

I got a couple questions yesterday — I know I will today — about compassion.  Compassion needs to be on both sides of that equation.  Yes, you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for the folks who are paying it.  And that is one of the things that is new about this President’s budget.

Director Mulvaney reflected the perspective of the Trump administration in articulating the notion that there is a systemic hierarchy of who should receive financial support from the government. According to the contents of the FY2018 budget and the Press briefing, it is clear that the priority of support and aid is not placed on the need of those that are most vulnerable in the country under the rationale that these persons in the country are detrimental to the economic development of the country. Among those particularly targeted by the Trump administration are refugees and immigrants that are displaced from their homelands and seek new hope for their families in the United States. Those that are to receive support from the new budget are tax-paying citizens exclusively.

I don’t think there is a problem with a political agenda that seeks economic stability and creates a margin for tax dollar spending limiting it to those that pay taxes. My issue is with the introduction and use of the word “compassion” in this discussion. Compassion, as defined by our friends at Oxford, is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Etymologically it literally means “to suffer with” (from the Latin: com “with/together,” and pati “to suffer”). If we are going to speak about compassion, it seems that the systemic hierarchy of where the governmental support is aimed must be to those who are the most vulnerable in the country, which in our current reality tends to be underprivileged families, refugees, and immigrant families. If compassion is going to be a criterion for the FY2018 budget, it is very difficult to justify the priority in the Department of Defense, and the cuts for vital education and healthcare policies.

Director Mulvaney later attempts to qualify his statement about compassion stating, “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs.” This statement is closer to the meaning of compassion, however the documentation of the budget does not reflect this criterion as the goal of the budget reforms:

America’s immigration policy must serve our national interest. The Budget supports commonsense immigration standards that protect American workers, reduce burdens on taxpayers and public resources, and focus Federal funds on underserved and disadvantaged citizens. (15)

In this introduction to the Reform of the Immigration Policy in the FY2018 Budget document, the criterion is not compassion. The criterion is national interest, which can be debated on a purely political level. The problem is that the Trump Administration wants to introduce notions of compassion, as though the rationale behind this budget is concern for those who are in most need in the country. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a letter to Congress regarding the Federal Budget. They pointed out that:

Sharp increases in defense and immigration enforcement spending, coupled with simultaneous and severe reductions to non-defense discretionary spending, particularly to many domestic and international programs that assist the most vulnerable, would be profoundly troubling.  Such deep cuts would pose a threat to the security of our nation and world, and would harm people facing dire circumstances. When the impact of other potential legislative proposals, including health care and tax policies, are taken into account, the prospects for vulnerable people become even bleaker.

What is at stake is the long-term economic goals that the Trump administration envisions and is working at making the difficult decisions to safeguard the future of this country juxtaposed with the current needs of those suffering in our country that lack the basic needs to live with dignity. I think it is necessary to affirm the positive cuts to programs and reductions that may help in the long-term economic goals that the Trump administration has for the country, however, I believe it is also necessary to point out the flawed priorities that the Trump administration has revealed in the excessive spending for the DOD and the lack of compassion for those that are living in our country.