TIME Religion

Let’s Treat Children at the Border as Christ Would

This is a moral moment for America and what it means to be an American. And for the church, it is a moment to make clear what it means to be a Christian.

Unaccompanied children are fleeing the escalating violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala and presenting themselves at the U.S. border–hoping to find safety from daily fears for their lives in these Central American countries. More than 50,000 have already come and their presence is now creating a political crisis in the United States.

The media has shown alarming pictures of hateful crowds of Americans blocking and threatening buses of young children being processed under U. S. laws. Imagine the fear in the hearts and minds of young children, all alone in a foreign culture, being screamed at by adults they don’t know in a language they don’t understand. Imagine the pain and fear of those families who tearfully sent their own children away from home to protect their lives.

Sadly, it’s not hard to imagine how our polarized political system is turning this complicated humanitarian disaster into another political and ideological war. What’s most reprehensible is how these children are being punished, instead of the politicians who refuse to fix our own broken immigration system which makes difficult situations like this even harder to solve.

So let’s ask how God might see this, and what our faith requires of us—questions hardly ever asked in Washington DC.

First, this is a deeply moral issue and problem. This is not just another political occasion to use for ideological agendas once again. Such political maneuvering at the expense of vulnerable children is morally inexcusable.

Second, these children are indeed “the strangers” among us, and how we treat them is how we treat Christ himself.

Third, the primary question we must ask is what would be best for such vulnerable children, not how this can be used to stoke the political and racial fears underneath the surface of American politics. The right thing to do for these kids is a matter too complicated for simplistic political answers and should generate a bi-partisan, civil, and compassionate conversation among political leaders. We must do our utmost to keep these children safe. Neither quickly returning them to terrible violence, nor encouraging more children to put themselves in the dangerous hands of despicable smugglers—will protect the children. This requires time, patience, compassion, clear messaging, and careful discernment. Politically motivated quick fixes will not suffice and are morally indefensible.

What about some deeper reflection on how the lucrative drug market in the United States has generated the violent cartels that now threaten the daily lives of children in these countries? What about reviewing our own history and policies in relationship to formerly dictatorial and currently corrupt governments in these Central American countries? How could making practical and effective investments in the development of these countries make us all safer? Those are the kinds of questions politicians too often put aside in favor of calculating their immediate political self-interest and gain from a crisis like this. Where is the governing here, instead of the constant pursuit of winning?

This contemporary moral crisis and the political failure of politicians to fix our broken immigration system and the procedures around humanitarian disasters like this may now require the moral intervention of the faith community. Led by our Hispanic brothers and sisters who know the language and culture of these children, we must support the direct involvement of churches in the caring for and processing of these unaccompanied children.

While we can support the timely processing of these children and the resources necessary to do that, we must oppose expediting the deportation of these children for political reasons. And we must publically oppose and obstruct any political motivated policies that would do that to these children—because they are our children too.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to people like these.” Matthew 19:14.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

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