As people of faith and members of the United Church of Santa Fe Immigration Task Force, we are concerned that our political leaders are asking the wrong questions about immigration. They are asking: “What should we do with all the people coming over our border?” While this is one question that needs to be answered, it is shortsighted to stop the discussion here. Many politicians need to change the lens through which they view immigration.
The real questions we need to ask are: “Why are people fleeing their homes in Central America in such large numbers? Why are they risking a dangerous journey to come to the United States?” Then we could ask the related question, which is: “What can we do to help them not need to leave their homes in the first place?”
Here are some possible answers to the first question. A little more research on the part of our government could clarify what is happening in Central America and how it could be resolved.
We know that criminal gangs control large regions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and that when people flee, they are fleeing because they are afraid they or their family members will be killed if they don’t. This seems like a perfectly legitimate reason to flee one’s home and also one that the government of the United States might be able to do something about with targeted foreign aid and law enforcement training.
We also understand that the impact of climate change on parts of Central America has caused some small farmers to no longer be able to reliably grow crops on their land. These people flee their homes so they won’t starve. This also seems like a legitimate reason to leave home and it is something that the U.S. government could also do something about.
We urge our leaders to look at immigration in a way that honors the faith traditions that form the moral foundation for our society, and which encourage us to act with compassion and intelligence.
Instead of arresting well-meaning U.S. citizens when they try to help refugees, what if our government worked with Central American governments to restore law and order, and reduce gang violence?
Instead of separating children from their parents at the border to discourage refugees, what if our government provided food aid to struggling farmers and helped them switch to crops that might do better in the changing climate?
Instead of building a useless wall that will not prevent refugees from coming, what if we had a comprehensive plan to help our Central American neighbors build peaceful and resilient societies?
For the same amount of money that is being wasted on a wall and detention centers, we could treat others as we would like to be treated, a teaching central to Christianity and all other mainstream faith traditions. With compassion and intelligence, we could slow the flow of refugees to a trickle and help our neighbors to the south live the lives they want in their home countries.
Hank Hughes is a member of the Immigration Task Force of the United Church of Santa Fe.