Statement from Bishop Edward J. Burns:
At a recent event with civic and religious leaders in the city, Mayor Mike Rawlings referred to Dallas as a city with a soul. I believe that the members of this community, whether believers or non-believers, and all people of goodwill throughout the country, are heartbroken at the news of immigrant children being separated from their families after an arduous journey to what their families believed would be a start to a better life.
In light of these recent events taking place along our southern border, I have asked the members of the Catholic community to join me in prayer for these families and for their swift reunion with family members, especially the young ones who need the presence and love of their mothers and fathers. This past weekend I convened an urgent meeting of our diocesan immigration task force in order to determine what we can do to assist in this situation. We are in the early stages of learning how we can help.
Knowing that we are "one nation under God", I have no doubt that our Heavenly Father hears the cries of these children. Recognizing that we are all made in His image, we are prompted to respond to this situation with love, compassion, and mercy. It is my prayer that our legislators and lawmakers will do the same - and do so quickly - in order to alleviate the unjust pain and suffering occurring at our borders.
Bishops speak out against forcibly separating families
Speaking to the US Bishops gathered in Ft Lauderdale, FL for their annual Spring General Assembly, the Conference’s Vice-President, Archbishop José Gomez updated the Bishops on a recent US immigration policy being implemented on the US border with Mexico. Archbishop Gomez reported that in March 2017 it was learned that the US government was considering the possibility of separating families arriving at its border. With a statement on 1 June, the US Bishops stated that the policy of forcibly separating families is ineffective and “contrary to Catholic values”. “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring”, the Archbishop said.
There is a need to secure the nation’s borders, but separating families does not respond to that security concern, the Archbishop said. It also does not address the root causes of immigration in the countries of origin, namely “community or state-sanctioned violence, gang recruitment, poverty, and a lack of education opportunities for children”.
Zero Tolerance policy enacted in May 2018
On Friday, May 4, 2018, a “zero-tolerance” policy was enacted, referring every person caught crossing the US/Mexico border illegally for federal prosecution. When announcing the policy change, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated, "If you're smuggling a child, we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally."
While the new policy does not affect asylum seekers, a new declaration by Sessions has changed the acceptable parameters for asylum by eliminating “private violence” such as domestic violence and threat of gang violence as acceptable basis to gain entry into the United States.
In a response to this new measure by Sessions, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded with a proclamation at the Spring General Assembly:
“The Attorney General's recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors. We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.”
Families torn apart at border
The implementation of this new policy separates families immediately after being taken into custody. Parents are placed in the custody of U.S. Marshalls, while the children are declared “unaccompanied” and placed in the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the US government’s Health and Human Services.
On Friday June 15th, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that a total of 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adult guardians who were prosecuted for entering the country illegally from April 19 to May 31.
The number of immigrants who sought asylum or were caught crossing the southern border in May – 51,912 – is not a significant change over the previous two months. However, the total number of families captured while attempting to cross into the United States has increased 17% in the past six months, and has increased by 37% in the Rio Grande Valley according to figures provided by Border Patrol.
Video released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows children housed in chain link “cells”
Footage shared on July 17 by the CBP shows images of children and adults in a facility in McAllen, Texas. The Associated Press reported, “More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children,”
The LA Times reports that people stay an average of roughly 50 hours at the McAllen center, a converted warehouse that opened in 2014. The center’s two massive rooms are separated into 22 chain link-fenced spaces, many labeled “cells” with netting on top to prevent escapes. The areas are cleaned three times per day. A representative from the CBP said that chain link fencing was used to separate the space because it was “cheap and see-through”.
Sources: Story includes quotes and figures from the following articles:
VaticanNews.va, “US Bishops respond to latest US immigration policy of separating families”
USCCB, “A Statement from Daniel Cardinal DiNardo”
New York Times, “Sessions Says Domestic and Gang Violence Are Not Grounds for Asylum”
Los Angeles Times, “Was a breastfeeding infant really taken from an immigrant mother? The answer to this and other questions about families separated at the border”
Vox.com, “These photos were the Trump administration’s attempt to quiet criticism. They’re only increasing critics’ horror.”
Los Angeles Times, “Texas Border Patrol center where immigrant families are separated draws lawmakers, protest”
Image Source: Screenshot of unedited government footage as provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, showing both adults and children in holdings areas made of chain link fence (via @DavidBegnaud on Twitter).