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Let’s Stop Accepting These 5 Lies

This is the first installment in the blog series "Seeing Beyond Immigration Rhetoric"
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News broke this week of an unplanned inspection of an El Paso detention center that incarcerates immigrants and the shocking disclosure of its abusive and inhumane conditions. It’s overwhelming.

One impulse to cope with news like this is to find a way to get distance from it. Maybe it’s to rationalize it -- there are just so many migrants, it’s impossible to handle them all humanely. Maybe it’s to moralize it -- these people should stop breaking the law.  Maybe it’s to doubt it -- there’s got to be some way this is “fake news,” or somehow overblown by the media.

We believe that truth brings freedom

These impulses feel good, probably because they relieve us of the stress of knowing about such oppression and feeling powerless to respond. But so often they are not based in truth.

We are people committed to the truth. In fact, we believe that truth brings freedom.  We are called to keep learning (or un-learning), and to keep our eyes open, to bear witness, and to advocate for justice on behalf of those suffering at the border. They are our brothers and sisters.

In courage, let’s stop accepting these lies:

  1. Lie: “More immigrants are coming today than what the country can handle.”

    Truth: The total number of people coming into the U.S. without papers is lower than it was for most of the 20th century. What is at its highest ever is the number of people coming into the U.S. without papers who can’t simply be detained and deported — children, families, and asylum-seekers. (Ten years ago, one in 100 people crossing the border was an unaccompanied child or asylum-seeker. Today, it’s one in three.)

    There used to be a common story: moms and kids stayed in their communities while working-aged husbands and sons sought economic opportunities in the U.S. But now the story is different. Now, violence forces vulnerable groups like women and children to leave, too. This requires border patrol, for example, to adapt their protocols and use different resources -- because what was safe and appropriate treatment for a grown man is not always appropriate for a young child.

    Instead of adapting policies to meet this new challenge, the U.S. has changed its border practices to intentionally be less efficient, less logical, and less humane -- in an effort to dissuade people from coming. The wait times are longer and longer because of these policy changes -- not solely because of rising numbers of asylum-seekers. The federal government is also making it harder and harder to go through the process. For example, the U.S. has largely eliminated gang and domestic violence as grounds for asylum; it introduced a “zero-tolerance” approach to border enforcement that prosecutes all first-time border crossers (even those seeking asylum) as criminals; among other policy changes and proposals.

  2. Lie: “Mexican and Central American leaders aren’t taking responsibility for this crisis, and foreign policy threats can force them to.”

    Truth: The foreign policy proposals we’ve seen from the White House -- imposing tariffs and withholding aid -- will not be effective in curbing migration. Those things will only make worse the situations that force people to flee. Foreign aid goes to non-government aid organizations, not to governments. Tariffs impact the working people, not the bureaucracy.

  3. Lie: “Tougher border policies will take away people’s desire to come to the U.S.”

    Truth: Deterrence measures don’t work. This is because people who are fleeing persecution are not calculating pros and cons -- they’re trying to survive. An asylum-seeker, by definition, is a person who is being pushed out of her home because of a well-founded fear that her life is being threatened. The U.S. has a long-standing commitment to a humanitarian process that protects the right to seek asylum, and it is a departure from this fundamental commitment to human rights when we change our policies so that we might “deter” people from trying to seek asylum through cruel practices such as family separation and prolonged  detention.

  4. Lie: “Refugees in other parts of the world shouldn’t have to wait longer because of people jumping the line at the border.”

    Truth: There is not a common pool of “spots” available to either a refugee in Kenya or an asylum-seeker at the border. Although the grounds for receiving asylum status and refugee status are the same, the procedures are different, and the two categories are treated differently. The President decides a fixed number of visas each year for refugees (for whom screening, processing, and visa awarding happens before they arrive in the U.S.). A fixed number is not allotted for asylum-seekers, however. Though an asylum-seeker must meet the same stringent persecution criteria that a refugee does, an asylum-seeker arrives in the U.S. (for safety) before they have been screened and processed. The number granted is not a predetermined quota, but can be different from year to year based on the need.

    Christians can, and should, advocate for more visas for refugees (the President’s allotment of refugee visas is currently at a historic low) because the Church has had a longstanding commitment to welcoming refugees. However, this is a separate process than asylum-seekers follow.

  5. Lie: “There’s no choice but to incarcerate people who are crossing the border.”

    Truth: There are plenty of other choices. In fact, for decades it has been the norm in the U.S. to use alternative means to screen, monitor, and process asylum-seekers that allow them to be treated with dignity. They’re safe, they’re kind, and they save taxpayer dollars. Detention is not necessary to ensure that asylum-seekers appear in court: immigrants appear for their court hearings at high rates, particularly when they have legal representation. They do not want to be undocumented -- they want to pursue legal pathways of immigration.

We can disagree about the best solutions.  We can follow Jesus, be good-hearted people, be committed to caring about those who are vulnerable, and find ourselves believing in different solutions to this humanitarian crisis.

But we can’t allow ourselves, or one another, to accept lies as truth.  We can’t allow leaders to convince us to be fearful. We can’t allow headlines to so overwhelm us that we fail to respond to those who suffer in our midst. We must bear witness to injustice, and in humility follow the crucified Christ -- whose love makes us unafraid -- toward a world where all are able to flourish. Let’s keep speaking, keep praying, keep advocating, and keep believing that justice will roll down like a 

Photo by Demi DeHerrera on Unsplash


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