by Tammy Alexander
“Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
According to the Gospel of Matthew (2:13), these are the words Joseph heard from an angel, some time after the birth of Jesus. Fortunately, Joseph and his family were able to find refuge in Egypt. This past summer, thousands of Central American families fled their homes and sought refuge in the United States and other countries. Some fled because their lives were similarly threatened.
Under pressure from members of Congress and the public, the Obama administration opened two new family detention centers as part of a strategy to deter others from coming to the U.S. Several lawyers have volunteered at the detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, as part of a pro bono project, working 16-20 hour days for weeks at a time. Several have written about their experiences and their stories are both riveting and disturbing.
Angela Williams’ blog entries tell of brave women who, having already experienced untold suffering in their home countries, are further traumatized during their detention in Artesia. Many are forced to recount stories of violence and rape in front of their children. Some are mistreated by guards and denied access to proper medical care. Children are denied simple items such as coloring books. In Williams’ words:
“I feel betrayed and traumatized by this place … [by] this Administration that for some reason has decided that mistreating women and children is the best way to ‘send a message’ to any other Central American thinking of coming to the U.S. that they better not come.
“They are not ‘illegal.’ They are asylees. There is no other way to seek asylum than what they are doing. You cannot apply for asylum from outside of the country. You must be physically present in the U.S. to do that […] [As an asylee,] your country has some situation going on that is out of control that is impacting you and causing you harm because of your race, religion, national origin, political opinion or because of your membership in a particular social group. Your government is unable or unwilling to do anything to stop this harm. You flee. You arrive in the United States and you ask for asylum. […] You show up and you say please protect me from what is happening in my country because I am afraid to go back.”
Mary and Joseph found refuge for their precious son, Jesus, when his life was in danger. How will we respond to parents showing up at our borders today, with babies in their arms, saying, ‘please protect me’? Will we remember the words of another former refugee who called us to care for the most vulnerable among us (Matthew 25:35-36)?
As of mid-December, the AILA Artesia Pro Bono Project had won all 12 of the asylum cases of detained mothers and children that have come before a judge. Pray for these brave volunteers as they continue to live out Jesus’ call. Pray for the women and children at Artesia and all who are struggling to find safety and welcome.
Urge President Obama and your members of Congress to also hear this call and to treat refugees and asylees with compassion. And, finally, consider how your church might answer the call to help immigrants in the U.S.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting domestic and international issues and detailing ways the church can be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy to elected leaders.