Despite all that we already knew about the profound injustices inflicted on migrants and asylum seekers by current government practices, we have been stunned by the details emerging in news reports during the past few weeks. They document the horrific conditions in detention centers for migrants, not only in a few isolated places at the border but in many locations around the country. The reports of young children languishing in these places for many weeks have been especially galvanizing for the public, and as awareness grows so too does the determination to shut these places down and reunify the families that have been so cruelly torn apart.
We are grateful for the news reports that are forcing the public to pay attention to the terrible damage being done to migrant children. Along with our own dismay and outrage, we are trying to hold to some core truths about this current political moment, and to remind others to stay focused on the broader picture. First, remember that the conditions in child detention centers are not the real problem: the real problem is that we are imprisoning children. No child should be in prison, for even one day; and that should be true even with the best of prison conditions.
Second, remember that the imprisonment of children is only the most devastating element of our current migration practices. The wider problem is that our government has criminalized migration. They are treating a humanitarian crisis as though it’s a crime, and therefore doing all that they can think of to punish it. Our consistent message should be that seeking asylum is legal, and that migration is a human right.
And third, remember that no migration crisis springs out of nothing. In the powerful words of poet Warsan Shire, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” The United States has over 120 years of history in Central America, nearly all of it devoted to securing land and resources for corporations and profit over the well-being of the people living there. The migrants arriving at our border are undeterred by the cruel practices that receive them, because every element of safety and security in their own countries has unraveled. The root causes of migration should not be forgotten.
We have resources available for individuals and congregations that want to deepen their understanding; trainings and workshops that can help congregations organize; and immersion learning journeys to the border, so activism is strengthened and grounded in first-hand experience.