You Don’t Have Rights Here

Third Way Wider ViewOctober 24, 2014

Alicia,* who witnessed her mother’s murder and feared retaliation from local gang members, made the dangerous trek from Honduras to the U.S. with her two children, ages three and ten-years-old in August. She was detained. She told U.S. Border Patrol officers of her fear of returning home. “I cried, I said I couldn’t return to my country. Sometimes you are so afraid…” Two days later, Alicia was deported.

What about Mary and Joseph, who were fleeing a place where their sons life was in danger, similar to Mateos story above?

Mateo* ran a small business in Honduras but went bankrupt paying extortion money to a local gang. Gang members tried to kidnap his seven-year-old son in June. Mateo sent his family to the U.S. and later fled himself. In September he was detained for six days in very cold rooms where Border Patrol officers allegedly pushed him to sign deportation papers, telling him, “You don’t have rights here.” Mateo was deported on September 9.

These two stories, from a recent Human Rights Watch report, are just two examples of how the U.S. government is treating thousands of women, men, and children fleeing violence in their home communities. According to the report’s author, Clara Long, “In its frenzy to stem the tide of migrants from Central America, the U.S. is sending asylum seekers back to the threat of murder, rape, and other violence.

What if Abraham, Isaac, or Naomi had not been able to escape the famines in their land and find at least temporary refuge elsewhere? What about Mary and Joseph, who were fleeing a place where their son’s life was in danger, similar to Mateo’s story above? What if they had been turned away at the border of Egypt and forcibly returned to Bethlehem, where King Herod wanted to kill the young Jesus?

The current treatment of migrants from Central America runs contrary, not only to God’s law, but also to U.S. law. Mateo, Alicia, and others like them do, in fact, have rights in the U.S. The 1980 Refugee Act explicitly prohibits the return of refugees to countries where they would face persecution. Such refugees must be carefully screened for claims of “asylum” so that they are not sent back into dangerous situations.

Prior to this summer, those making asylum claims were typically released to stay with family members in the U.S., making it easier for them to obtain a lawyer and gather evidence to support their claims (and also saving the government the $159 per person per day cost of detention).

Now, potential asylum seekers are locked up in remote detention facilities, most without access to attorneys. Many are deported within days. In the short asylum interviews that do take place, victims of rape and other forms of violence are often interviewed in front of their children. Some are interviewed in locations where other immigrants are present and fear that what they say could get back to traffickers or gang members. Even those few who “pass” their asylum interviews are not released and could remain locked up for months or even years while immigration courts consider their cases.

Tell President Obama and your Members of Congress that it is wrong to send vulnerable children and their parents back into harm’s way. Throughout the course of human history, people have migrated to find food and safety. Today’s migrants are no different, and neither is our responsibility to “welcome the stranger” as we would welcome Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35).

* Name changed to protect identity.

Posted: 10/24/2014 7:00:00 AM

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