It was a striking image, a father and his almost two-year-old daughter lying dead on a river bank — an image that captured the potent reality of the perils immigrants face while fleeing their home country in search of a better life.
And it was this image that sparked even more outrage about the crisis happening at the border of the United States, including from some members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who penned an op-ed piece for The Hill June 30 entitled “As a nation we must honor the humanity and basic needs of migrants.” Read the full piece here.
USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, along with USCCB vice president Archbishop Jose Gomez and USCCB Migration Committee chairman Bishop Joe Vasquez expressed their sorrow for 23-month-old Angie Valeria and her father, Oscar Martinez, who died last week while fleeing El Salvador in search of safety in the United States. Valeria and Martinez were the subjects of a disturbing photograph that went viral.
The bishops noted that “the deaths of Angie and her father are not the first we have seen during this ongoing humanitarian crisis,” citing the example of Jakelin Caal Maquin, a seven-year-old from Guatemala who died from sepsis while in custody of the Border Patrol.
“These deaths are occurring because the United States is closing off access to asylum protection through policies and enforcement that send the clear and strong signal that you are not welcome,” the bishops wrote.
The bishops go on to mention how asylum laws in the U.S. have their roots in World War II, when our nation turned away the S.S. St. Louis, a ship carrying almost 1,000 Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany.
“In the aftermath of that experience and that war, the United States helped lead the world in establishing international protocols to ensure that refugees fleeing persecution in their country of nationality or habitual residence would receive protection when they present themselves at another country’s borders,” the bishops explained.
With the Trump Administration’s attempt to eliminate DACA laws in 2017 and their recent promise to round-up Central American immigrants and deport them, the fate of many immigrants living in this country remains in the balance, the bishops said.
Breaking down the harsh reality many of these immigrants face, the bishops called on Congress to determine a solution to this crisis — one that upholds the inherent dignity of each of these persons.
“Congress has, for years, been unable to find the solution so that we can be a nation that welcomes and embraces the immigrant,” they wrote. “It is imperative that the administration and Congress come up with a solution to these tragic realities and pass a comprehensive immigration reform plan that will include immediate humanitarian relief.
“We recognize the right of nations to control their borders and provide safety for citizens. We also believe that, in the best of our nation’s traditions, it is within our capability as a nation to honor the humanity and basic needs of migrants in a way that does not compromise our nation’s security.”
The duty to assist migrants and refugees is a core part of the American nation — a nation founded on Christian principles, the bishops said, and we risk losing our identity as Americans if we can’t find a humane way to help those in need.
“One of God’s greatest commandments is to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,'” they wrote. “Following this commandment, we must remain a country that provides refuge for children and families fleeing violence and persecution or we have lost our core values as a nation.”
Featured image: STR/AFP/Getty Images