Justice and compassion are owed to those on both sides of the border
The Catholic Church in the State of Texas knows well not only the plight of those migrants and refugees who enter our country on a daily basis, but also the suffering of the vulnerable victims of human trafficking who receive compassionate care and assistance through many men and women who serve in our ministries of outreach and assistance, with a record of consistent cooperation with government authorities at local, state, and federal levels.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis at our southern border vexes our political life as a state and as a nation. The situation has variously prompted fear, compassion, anger, and righteous indignation, leaving many Texans with a sense that we are powerless before chaos.
The movement of migrants and refugees need not be chaotic if the federal government were to follow an orderly process for the just adjudication of asylum claims at the ports of entry between Texas and Mexico, with due cooperation from state and local authorities.
The United States can and should be faithful to its history based upon principles of freedom, equality, and justice as an international leader in responding generously and compassionately to people in crisis who seek to be free of persecution and the unjust oppression by international cartels. Towards that end, several principles must guide our compassion for our response to be just and effective.
First, sovereign nations have the right and duty to control their borders. This exercise of sovereignty is first for the common good of citizens, and then, prudentially, in service of the human dignity of all.
Secondly, no one benefits from the collapse of the rule of law, especially the vulnerable. The deliberate denial and lack of attention at the federal level to the large influx of people across our southern border undermines the just rule of law. This federal dereliction has compounded the dangerous political and financial influence of international gangs and of nations hostile to the United States of America. The gradual erosion of border integrity only compounds the terrible crimes of the drug trade and human trafficking perpetrated by gangs that especially prey upon vulnerable women and children, resulting in such horrible tragedies as the death last June of 53 migrants trapped in a tractor trailer near San Antonio.
It is not in accord with our American values to ignore the critical distinction between those who seek entry for aid and those who seek entry for profitable exploitation. It is just as incorrect and irrational to imply that everyone arriving at our border is our enemy as to imply that everyone arriving at our border is our friend. The discernment of friend from foe, refugee from migrant, perpetrator from victim, presupposes the application of the rule of law, requiring the cooperation of government at all levels.
Thirdly, without the just rule of law, refugees and asylum seekers cannot be protected from exploitation. Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the larger community. This requires accountability and that, at a minimum, migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered and processed by a competent governmental authority in an amount of time that is reasonable, as measured by the urgency of the situation and the importance of respect for human dignity.
Government policies that respect the basic human rights of migrants and refugees are necessary and must be directed to maintaining the cohesive family unit, especially those with young children. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be upheld at every stage of the legal process and not have their privacy exploited in the media by political stunts performed for partisan purposes or financial gain.
Finally, the partisan polarization in our nation has fomented a chaos bringing us to the present moment of this humanitarian crisis. A concerted international coalition against the cartels is necessary; a failure to form one is a source of many injustices. We now face the legitimate concern that without each level of government discharging their respective responsibilities, we will damage severely the secure well-being of people and the common good of our towns, state, and nation. The ignoring of the humanitarian crisis at our border jeopardizes our capacity to assist and to comfort migrants, refugees, and the residential and native poor who are already here among us. Justice and compassion are owed to people on both sides of the border.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This column appeared in the October 23, 2022 Opinion pages of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.