Catholics mobilize around U.S. to help separated families

Americans protesting in favour of migrants

Some Catholics have taken their indignation all the way to the border between the U.S. and Mexico, while others have taken action closer to home, protesting while accompanied by their children and fellow parishioners in cities and towns across the U.S.

Others are volunteering their services to counsel or visit immigrant children separated from a parent or are publicly advocating against the practice.

From coast to coast in the United States, Catholics, including cardinals, bishops, women and men religious, priests and laity, and many sisters from an array of religious orders, and the organizations they staff or support, have been among some of the most public and vociferous voices around the country in defence of immigrants. That defence has gone into overdrive in efforts to reunite migrant families and to call for their humane treatment.

“Some of these episodes are right down inhumane, unbiblical and un-American,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan before a crowd of reporters in New York City. “I’d like to think that America has just experienced a wake-up call. That we’re getting a little bit away from our roots, of a posture of welcome and hospitality and embrace to the immigrant.”

Outside a federal courthouse in El Paso, Texas, where hundreds of protesters had gathered to speak against family separation and detention in late June, Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network, addressed the crowd using the words from the Book of Micah: “What does God ask of us? Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly.”

“Our nation is failing this mandate,” she said. “We are failing to act justly. We as a nation are not loving. Our leadership is not walking humbly. We must repent and change our course of action.”She said that she was heading toward a detention camp for children to deliver toys and books but had “no luck” in being allowed to do so.

Father Tom Smith, a Conventual Franciscan who runs a retreat center that has housed 500 migrants since November 2016 in New Mexico, had the same experience and was denied entry to a child detention center in Texas on Father’s Day.

“This is a moral and inhumane situation,” said Smith in a statement posted on a Franciscan blog.  “Scripture calls us to welcome the foreigner, to treat them as we would treat our own. Jesus states clearly the way we treat others is the way we will be judged. Is the present immigration approach how we would want to be treated?

“Zero tolerance is vindictive and immoral. Immigration officials may now say we are not separating families, but how long will it take to unite those already separated?”

Though the Trump administration said it would temporarily stop separating children from their parents at the border, Catholics advocating for the migrants worry about the administration’s imminent plans to detain the children and their family members at camps on military bases in Texas.

Some of the children who already have been separated have ended up in places such as New York, with foster parents or in shelters, where organizations such as Catholic Charities are providing legal support to try to reunite them with family, or to provide emotional comfort while awaiting to be reconnected with family.