The Evil at Our Borders: Migrants, Refugees, and the Spiritual Crisis of Immigration

Central American migrant in southern Mexico on his way north to the United States.  Creative Commons Copyright: Peter Haden

It is evil.


Treating child refugees like criminals is evil.

Since October, some 52,000 children from Central America have been taken into custody as they crossed into the United States, overwhelming the U.S. system meant to handle only a few thousand. For more than a week, politicians, pundits, and pastors have debated how to handle this crisis.

For conservatives, it is an immigration crisis, demonstrating the failures of the U.S. immigration policy and the need for militarized borders.

For liberals, it is a humanitarian crisis, demonstrating the failures of U.S. economic policy, the immediate need for aid, and the necessity of immigration reform.

For me, while I agree with progressives here, it is also a profoundly spiritual crisis. It is a crisis of faith, and right now, we are not the bearers of liberty, hope, democracy, or good news. Rather, we are the bearers of evil.

These children are fleeing a region with the highest murder rates of any place on the planet. The majority of children — 75 percent — come from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, countries with the highest murder rates in the world thanks to violent drug gangs. These children are fleeing forcible enlistment into the violent armies of Central American drug cartels.

They are fleeing a culture of death. Treating them as anything other than refugees in need of asylum is evil.

Imagine a child risking life and limb to escape only to be sent straight back to the guns, the drugs, and near-conscription. Imagine a child trying to find a life that doesn’t involve the high likelihood they will die in excessively violent streets only to be told not to worry because they’ll be back home soon, where everything is safe and sound. But that home country is overrun by violence and death. That home is what they were fleeing in the first place. Not because they had bad, unloving families, or were chasing the American Dream, or were looking for Easy Street in the U.S. social service system, or wanting to steal jobs from hard-working Americans.

Central American migrants ride atop a train, nicknamed the Beast, as they travel toward the United States-Mexico border. Creative Commons copyright Peter Haden

But simply because they didn’t want to die.

And that’s the reality for many of them. If we deport them to their home countries, we might as well sign their death certificates.

So, if you consider yourself pro-life, you had better be on the side of life on this one. And that means asylum for these child refugees.

If you take the Bible to be God’s literal, inerrant truth, then you had better be on the side of these refugee children. God is unequivocally clear in Scripture that we are to welcome the alien and the refugee, not question them, detain them, and deport them.

If you want to be a Christian, you have no choice but to let the little children come. You have no choice but to welcome the stranger, who just happens to be your neighbor.

Otherwise, you’re just a damned liar. Or at the very least, you are lying to yourself.

You cannot be a Christian and reject these children.

The protests that greeted these child refugees in Murrieta?


The political posturing by politicians and pastors pontificating that securing borders, building walls, deporting children is somehow humane or what Jesus wants?


It is evil to send children to their deaths.

Especially when you have the power to do otherwise.

And it is evil, profoundly evil, to create a world with so few good options for children that they take to the tops of deadly trains rather than taking to their own streets. That is precisely what the United States has done to Central America.

We have been unmasked in this crisis. Our deeds have been exposed. We have done evil, this evil that enslaves us, this evil done on our behalf.

There is evil at our borders, most certainly. But it’s on our side. And it’s of our own making.

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.