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Political tensions in Washington over immigration policy fuel Episcopal advocacy, outreach

Posted on: June 28, 2019 1:58 PM
Controversy of the US asylum policies increased this week after a photo emerged of a dead father and his toddler daughter, who had drowned while trying to cross a river near the US border. Pictured here in happier times with wife and mother Tania Ávalos, daughter Valeria was found with her arm holding on to her father Oscar Alberto Martinez. They were both dead.
Photo Credit: Family handout

[Episcopal News Service, by David Paulsen] The US-based Episcopal Church is stepping up its advocacy and outreach on immigration issues as political tensions grow in Washington over looming deportation raids, pending plans for humanitarian aid on the border and the treatment of migrant children held in US detention centres. The federal raids reportedly were scheduled to take place in 10 cities on 23 June but were postponed at the last minute. One of the cities said to be targeted is Chicago, where Diocese of Chicago Bishop Jeffrey Lee issued a statement on 21 June expressing solidarity with immigrants living in fear.

“This news of new raids and mass deportations threatens to make these fears real, as families are torn apart and members of our communities and congregations are wrenched away from lives they have laboured for years to build,” Lee said. “The threat of these raids makes it difficult not to conclude that our immigration system is failing to operate with common humanity or to embody the highest values of our country or its people.”

Bishop David Reed in West Texas issued a statement on 20 June, World Refugee Day, calling on his diocese to support immigration ministries. He asked that Episcopalians set aside political differences to care for all in need, as Jesus taught.

“We can and should, and desperately need to, have informed, respectful debate on our country’s immigration laws and policies. But the time for that is not when a weary, confused, and hungry person stands before you,” Reed said, whether that person is an asylum-seeker or a Border Patrol agent.

Reed’s diocese, which includes the borderlands from Del Rio, Texas, to the Gulf of Mexico, hosted a “Walk in Love” border tour in May that featured outreach to both migrants living in tents on the Mexico side of the border and law enforcement officials in the United States.

Arizona Bishop Jennifer Reddall sent a letter on 25 June to Arizona’s two US senators and representatives from two of its congregational districts, expressing her opposition to “the holding of migrant children in filthy conditions” and requesting “immediate action.”

Reddall was responding specifically to a New York Times report of squalid conditions at a border station in Clint, Texas, where migrant children as young as seven years old are being held. Conditions reportedly are similar at other border facilities overwhelmed by the influx of migrant families.

“The lack of sanitation, supervision, and humane treatment is appalling, and far from what any citizen should expect of its government,” Reddall said. “All children, regardless of their country of origin, warrant the most basic elements of care: a toothbrush, a bed, a blanket, and an adult to see to their medical, psychological, and social needs.”

Her letter followed a joint statement issued June 6 by ecumenical leaders, including Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, addressing the issue of children in detention more broadly.

“As US religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, we are united in our concern for the well-being of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives,” the religious leaders said, singling out the cases of six young migrants who have died in US custody since September.

“Our houses of worship and agencies have welcomed, engaged and served many migrant families that have recently arrived in the US,” the statement reads. “These migrants have left their communities to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. . . We urge the Administration to maintain its commitment to international law and defend human rights by implementing safeguards to ensure the safety and health of all of those seeking protection in our land, especially those children who fall under our care.”

  • Click here to read David Paulsen’s fuller report on the Episcopal News Service website.