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.

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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 is ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He lives in North Carolina, is a father of two boys, and the husband of a medical resident.

Connect with David through his Facebook page, Twitter, or Instagram.

  • ecumenicus

    Nice. Thank you, David.

  • Gwen P.

    I think you can be a Christian and be against these kids, but it certainly makes you a bad one. We’ve turned apathy and exclusion into religious practice in this country, and we direly need to repent of it.

    • Snooterpoot

      If being a Christian means being a follower of Christ, then I disagree with you. Matthew Chapter 25 deals specifically with how we are to treat refugees.

      • Gwen P.

        Luckily, we aren’t saved by being right but by the grace of God. A person can be a terrible disciple and still be a disciple. Christ came for the tax collectors and the pharisees alike. I absolutely think the Christ-like thing to do is to offer these children assylum–but holding a selfish view doesn’t make a person not a Christian, and as the parable of the seed tells us, it’s for God to sort out who is saved, not for you and me.

      • Snooterpoot

        We will have to agree to disagree, Gwen. You are correct that they will be judged by their creator. But I don’t have to recognize in them one shred of decency when they do things that are evil. And, I know I am guilty of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy here, but I cannot stand even thinking that these people, in their evil discipleship, are anywhere close to true followers of Christ.

    • christine

      I believe you are correct Gwen. If I don’t want conservatives to tell me I can’t be a Christian and support a woman’s right to choose, then I can’t turn around and do the same to them. Fortunately our salvation is not dependent on our attitudes.

  • eddiecarol

    “and then the righteous will answer him “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?…and the King will reply “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

  • Mark Johnson

    Perfect solution. Instead of the Federal government forcing cities and counties to foot the bill for their mistakes, people should take action. Surely there has to be at least 52,000 progressive Christian families that are willing to walk the talk and be followers of Christ. Have each family open their home and be a short term Foster Parent for each of these kids. Problem solved.

    • Cryndalae

      Some folks in my neck of the woods are trying… I’d love to see a page like this for all 50 states. :)

    • Katherine McGondel-Desmarais
      • Eve Fisher

        I just signed it.

      • Katherine McGondel-Desmarais

        Thank you Eve!

    • Lamont Cranston

      Or it could be a great opportunity for conservative Christian families to show that they are not, in fact, disgusting bigot trash and take in one of these kids.

      • jek4

        How many kids have you taken in there at the Cranston household? This would be a great opportunity to show that you aren’t just a hypocrite full of a bunch of hot air. Because every kid you fail to take in makes you that much more evil. Evil. Just like the writer stated.

      • Lamont Cranston

        Thanks for asking! Currently, there is no program which would allow anyone to take in any of these children, but even if there were I would not be financially able to do so. You see, I’ve had two gentlemen living with me who would otherwise be homeless. They can’t get jobs because they have developmental disabilities, but they don’t qualify for government assistance because of ignorant conservative goons holding the purse strings. I have, however, donated as much as I can to help these kids out.

        Have you ever done anything in your miserable little life to help another person, jekass4?

      • jek4

        No program? I can get you a family of illegal aliens any time you’d like. Getting a child sent from another country would be fairly easy as well. The child would have to make it over the border, but that happens every single day. It’s a simple matter of posting your address and willingness in the right places. And don’t tell me that it would be illegal. While some of these children might qualify as a refugee, not all would, and those children are here illegally.

        For the record, I do and have done my charitable deeds over my many years. Of course, as close minded as you apparently are atop your high horse, you’d deny any of it were true. Additionally for the record, my mother’s family came here from Mexico and did it the right way. They feel if they could do it, so should everyone else.

        So I guess your answer is, you haven’t helped these children. How evil.

      • David R. Henson

        We are talking here about a system of injustice not personal actions or deeds. Context is important. Those fleeing Central America are refugees from the most violent, murderous place in the world.

      • Guest


      • Kelly

        No, that would be East St. Louis. Plenty of kids there living in terror. I should know since I live just a few miles away.

      • David R. Henson

        Take it easy on the name-calling. If you want to talk about an action you feel is wrong or bigoted, that’s one thing. But ‘disgusting bigot trash’ is a bit much.

    • Snooterpoot

      So, it is not the responsibility of conservative Christians to take in these children? Do you identify them as “illegals” so you don’t have to think about their humanity?

      Your comment is specious and you seem to be heartless as well.

      • jek4

        You think it’s their responsibility? How many have you taken in? How many have all your friends taken in?

      • Snooterpoot

        Your comment is a red herring. As far as I know none of these children have been placed anywhere other than the warehouses they are in now.

        Your comment is an attempt to divert your heartless refusal to recognize these children as refugees. Go ahead and dehumanize them. That’ll ease your conscience somewhat when you only have to think of them as lawbreakers. Then, if you are, indeed, a follower of Christ, ask yourself what he would do.

        I think it’s everyone’s responsibility. And when those kids arrive at the state where I live (if they overcome the sheer lack of compassion shown by people like you) I will take at least two of them into my home. As a follower of Christ I can do no less.

      • Guest

        You’re a follower of Christ?


        Oh, you were serious?


  • Yonah

    This post of Fr. David R. Henson gets the never before awarded 1000% approval of Yonah.

  • R Vogel


  • Lynn White

    Thank you, David, for a wonderful article. It is our calling to reach out to these poor children.

  • Sumner Berg

    There would not be these problems if we would have done something to keep the population sustainable and stomped out corruption and religion.

  • psydneyh

    Let’s just empty out all 3d world countries and invite them here

    • Lamont Cranston

      An excellent idea!

  • Tami Gregory

    A Christian has an obligation to help the children. An American, living in a secular country, has absolutely no such obligation. John F. Kennedy made it clear that Catholics specifically, and Christians in general, will be good Americans and ignore their faith when it comes to public policy.

    • Snooterpoot

      Nice cop out you’ve got going there. Does it make you feel good about turning these helpless children away?

      Seems to me that conservative Christians are quite insistent that our government is based on their theology. It’s really convenient for you to find a way out of that hypocrisy.

  • Liberty

    You are ridiculous. I haven’t seen any Christians saying we should refuse to feed, clothe, & shelter these children. That does not mean we have to allow them to remain in our country.

    • Lamont Cranston

      Are you a Christian? Do you think the US should feed, clothe and shelter these children?

    • Snooterpoot

      So, you think it is okay to send children back to countries where they will be subjected to continuing violence and poverty? I don’t think that’s what Jesus would do.

  • Shamusmgee

    I find this article less than genuine. Where is the responsibility of those nations to provide a secure safe place for their citizens? Why is the United States evil? Why do you single out Christianity? You attack the United States which is the most philanthropic and giving country in the history of the world. Who will pay for this? Who will be responsible for the lives of these children to raise them to productive adult lives? Many have sai they already have family here so they should be fine but is that true? We cannot in our personal lives or as a nation be everything for everyone. I know it’s hip today to apologize for being American. It’s easy to paint this with a broad brush and say we need to be compassionate but I have heard no concrete plan on how to deal with this other than just let them in, it will all work out. I think that logic is foolish because we already know we have an overburdened government who has trouble getting it’s own house in order regardless of party affiliation.

    • Morgan Sheridan

      You need to steep yourself in the history of America’s work in undermining the governments of Central and South American nations. Your ignorance shores up the evil Mr. Henson is talking about.

      • Guest

        And what about the Jesuits and their liberation theology that the Church mainly turned a blind eye to? They have their hand in this too.

    • Lamont Cranston

      May your children suffer that which you wish on others.

      • Donalbain

        No. No. No. Do not do that.
        We do NOT wish for children to be punished for the sins of their parents.

      • David R. Henson

        I don’t wish suffering on anyone. This is not appropriate. Please keep your comments above the belt here or you will lose commenting privileges here.

    • Eve Fisher

      There’s a little United States corporation called the United Fruit Company (later United Brands and finally Chiquita Brands International) that turned Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica into “banana republics” – no other employers, huge plantations, extremely low wage workers, everything run by the company (the United States government even helped topple the occasional democratically elected government which wanted to change things, in order to protect Chiquita). We did our part to create a plantation economy that Guatemala and Honduras are still recovering from.

      • Guest

        And guess who was responsible?
        That’s right, the Democrats.

      • David R. Henson

        We are all responsible as a nation. We’ve all benefited and participated in this injustice.

      • Guest

        Nonsense. I don’t even like bananas. The guy you’re after is Minor Keith, who is long dead, because the things you’re talking about happened a hundred years ago and pretty much ended in the late 1960s; you’re about 50 years too late, not to mention a few quarts short of a gallon. So sorry that as a 3-year-old I was unavailable to invade Central America with a plastic sword and my GI Joe dolls and make them obey and conform to your idea of how things should be in someone else’s country. The nerve of me, eh?

    • Snooterpoot

      Shame on you. Just, shame on you. How does it feel to be so lacking in compassion?

    • Patty Finkral

      On the surface it would seem to be their own countries’ responsibility. But we live in a country where drug abuse is rampant and sex trafficing is rampant. We have exploited their poverty.

  • Dan

    This issue has nothing at all with border security. It is a humanitarian issue alone. Most all of these children turned themselves in to our Border Patrol. I wish people would stop confusing the two issues.

    • jek4

      Remember when the Dems called out the GOP for their nonsense suggestion that the liberal immigration policies would lead to a massive influx of young children and adults trying to make it into the country? I do.

      • David R. Henson

        It’s violence and murder (and American policies that facilitated this) that is sending refugees here. Democrats are among the worst on immigration, posturing as progressives but calling for militarizing the border and deporting scores, including the first wave of these refugees.

      • P. McCoy

        Neither American evangelicals nor the Pope has asked Mexico, Costa Rica (which cares more about eco tourism than getting rid of malaria in its Puerto Limon, where its disenfranchised, Black, English speaking Protestant culture ekes out an existence) or the Spanish speaking South American countries to take them in. They have planes- why not fly the ‘poor children’ to those countries? Share and assist in solving the problem.

  • Eve Fisher

    The determination to believe in some kind of liberal conspiracy is mind-boggling and never-ending. THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY. Parents in Guatemala are trying to keep their children alive. Just as parents in Ireland shipped their children over to the US back in the mid-1800′s. And their children were treated like disease-bearing vermin, too. I’ve noticed that all the screaming people at the borders and lining the highways for the buses are obviously not Native Americans: so where were their ancestors from? Is there no conception of irony? We need to never forget what happened with the 1939 MS St. Louis, who tried, desperately, to ship Jews to America, and got turned away…

    • jek4

      Which Native American tribe have you donated your land to? Or maybe you just bring them up in a ridiculous attempt to shame someone else using a topic with which you really have no interest.

      • David R. Henson

        Again, systems of oppression vs. individual acts of charity. Charity is important but doesn’t accomplish systemic justice, which is what is needed since we are dealing with systemic injustice and oppression.

  • KateFowler

    The fact that so very many people are sending their UNACCOMPANIED minor children to sneak into the US quite scary… and dangerous.

    While there is no question that SOME of these undocumented kids are fleeing violence in their neighborhood… well, that doesn’t mean there aren’t OTHER neighborhoods in their native lands they could flee to, i.e. instead of to the US.

    While a specific neighborhood in Guatemala has among the highest murder rates in the world… Guatemala’s a fair size country. Lots of other places to settle. It’s not fair to insist those kids are refugees on the basis of the neighbohood (vs country as a whole) they come from. There’s an inciredibly violent area of Chicago, where even extra police patrols for school children, etc. has been unable to stem the gun violence… a scarily dangeous neighborhood that is 1) not at all representative of the safety of the Chicago as a whole and 2) not at all representative of the safety of the US as a whole!!

    • Gladgran

      You haven’t been to Guatemala or you would know that people of limited means do not have the option to move to towns or neighborhoods that have walls and gates.
      As for unsafe neighborhoods in this country–it is an indictment of the inequity and failure to care about the safety of others.

      • Gladgran

        Just as in the US, elitist bubbles are being created in Guatemala. One example:

      • KateFowler

        A destitute family that somehow comes up with $5k to pay to have a kid smuggled to El Norte would presumably be better off using the funds to relocate to some other part of Guatemala.

      • Gladgran

        90% of the children have family members in the U.S. It is not a given that parents would know of people they can trust elsewhere in the country and crime and economic instability are widespread in Guatemala.
        I recommend a visit to or deeper study of the country, as well as the harmful role of the US government and military/corporate interests.

      • KateFowler

        A poor family that borrows $5k to pay someone to smuggle a kid to the US can presumably borrow that $5k to move THEMSELVES someplace else in Guatemala.

        US government and/or military/corporate interests have zero reason to take an interest in a poor family that moved from one particularly dangerous/gang-ridden city to someplace safer domestically.

      • Gladgran

        I failed to make my point clear, it appears. Of course the US govt and other interests have no reason to concern themselves with the movements of poor families.
        It is the support for the bad military and economic policies that have destabilized the entire country.
        There are not domestically safer places for poor people to go.

      • KateFowler

        Nope, not true. One particular slum is the murder capital of the world. As such, getting out of it — even to someplace else in the same country — is significantly safer.

      • Gladgran

        I will give up trying to share a deeper understanding of the country.

  • jek4

    This is utter nonsense. We can distort and over-dramatize every situation just as he did. If he doesn’t downsize her life completely and donate every spare penny he has to help these children or children starving abroad, he’s evil. Evil. Does he ever dine out? I hope not. He can get by on plain fruits and vegetables. Only the bare essentials. Has he converted his entire wardrobe to the most drab, plain, inexpensive clothing he can find? I hope she has, because that money could be spent on these children. And I CERTAINLY hope he’s using free internet at the library or somewhere that gives free wi-fi. Those poor kids could really use that extra money.

    • David R. Henson

      Again, let me encourage you to explore the difference between charity and justice and how systemic oppression and injustice demand systemic responses.

      But certainly I include myself in the broad category of American citizens who have participated (evil done on our behalf in the post) in this evil and benefited from it.

      • Guest

        But does anyone else include you? I mean check you out, wailing about things you don’t know about and people you never heard of, calling everyone evil for not doing things you can’t make them do.. and you think you’re some kind of Jesus… what are you, on dope?

  • Guest

    Can’t those other countries take care of their own children? After all, they have ‘Progressive Christians’ there too. We know them better by their usual name: Communists.

  • cken

    To cast this as a religious matter can only be with the intention to invoke feelings of guilt. These children could have stopped in Mexico and escaped the gangs in their homeland.
    Whether they deserve asyum or not they are still criminal.

    • sortiz

      Stop in Mexico? Do you live under a rock? There is just as much, if not more, gang violence in Mexico in additional to all the violence surronding the drag cartels.

      • cken

        Seriously? Most of Mexico isn’t that bad. Yes there some areas that are bad but even those would be better than where they came from. And think of the advantages they wouldn’t have to learn a new language or change their diet and they wouldn’t need new wardrobes. I think the reason they didn’t stop in Mexico is because the gangs want to establish bases in the U.S. We need to quit assuming these innocent little14 year old illegal aliens aren’t also gang members and criminals in their homeland. The cartel could actually be planting gangs like some religions plant churches. Do you know or are you just the glass is half full, life is a bowl of cherries person.

      • Gladgran

        the “not bad” places will be less accessible to refugees. Second many of the Guatemalan immigrants do not speak Spanish and food habits differ between the two countries.
        Another thing you need to research is the history of export of gang members (i.e. deportation) to their home countries. The U.S. is culpable minimally of shortsightedness. Then there are the issues of support for corrupt governments and military organizations, as well as meddling in local affairs, facilitating extractive and polluting industries such as mining and timber and insecticide supported crops like snow peas. . . . I should have just said NAFTA, then CAFTA.

    • Gladgran

      Not criminal–”criminalized.” There used to be a circularity until laws were enacted that declared crossing the border more than once to be a felony.
      I challenge you to visit the sending countries and witness the level of gang power in some areas. And, er, have you noted the situation in Mexico?
      Also, anyone in the U.S. who is buying trafficked drugs from the area is helping to fund the disastrous situation.
      And then there is the economic and military destabilization supported by our tax dollars. The history of US meddling, or intervention, is long and shameful.

  • bill wald

    On the other hand, there are probably 100 million parents and children who would come here from South and Central America if we opened the border. How many should we let in?

  • r21187

    i am from guatemala and people dont know they are leaving here just FOR MONEY of course they will claims they are poor if that let them stay there and if they make it all the money they make is coming to guatemala were people use in drugs or alchool -_- people should really look how are the family of people that stay and see how they are not doing for “necesity” as they say

    • Gladgran

      Of course there are people going for economic reasons–always have been. I have not seen statistics that bear out your claim that all the money goes for drugs/alcohol.
      This essay talks about children whose lives are so bad that risking everything by traveling north is a less bad option than staying at home and being pressed into a gang, extorted, murdered. . . .
      Have you visited the sending communities in remote areas of Guatemala?

      • P. McCoy

        Hey-if you can gather 7 thousand or more US dollars to pay a coyote, then you can afford to flee closer to home (hola Costa Rica!) or make life better in your own countries.

  • Mike Ward

    It’s a difficult and complicated situation. No good comes from calling those who disagree with you on this issue evil.

    • David R. Henson

      I am careful in the post to describe actions not people as evil. I include myself in complicity here as an American citizen.

      • Mike Ward

        There’s a fine distinction between calling people evil and calling their actions evil, but if you want to split hairs, I will say that no good comes from calling the actions of those who disagree with you on this issue evil either.

        As for for your second statement, it just makes me angry. You’re not pointing fingers at yourself. You are poiinting them at others. Tacking on that you feel complicit by the mere fact of your nationality changes little.

  • Captivemind

    But what about the already homeless and inner city kids attempting to live a life outside the same gangs running drugs through their dangerous neighborhoods? Are we to feign Christian support only when it serves our purpose and leave them to fend for themselves while we go out of our way to help those who we don’t know? Won’t it burn a bitter rage and anger into the kids who are born here to those circumstances while we give to those who were not?

    • Gladgran

      Why do you make this an ‘either-or-situation’? We must fight systemic oppression whereever it happens.
      We can afford to do so–the only thing lacking is the will.

    • P. McCoy

      They already hate and disrespect us by violating our sovereignty. Non PC to say, but many of them are gang bangers, sex traffickers and drug smugglers taught in their nations to hate African Americans- Los Angeles is filled with them trying to run people out of communities that African
      Americans have lived in for more than 7 decades or more. Reconquista IS real!

  • Don Lowery

    For those fundamentalist (I use that rather than the more neutral term of conservatives) “christians” who are against these children and other refugees…let’s be pragmatic here and use your logic. Are you really willing to pay the cost of the hate you are showing these persons in direct contradiction of what God himself says? For instance…are you really willing to pay the cost when the little ones today grow up hating and angry with you? Is the cost worth it when they flood the streets of your neighborhood and show you the same anger you showed them in the past? You are creating the thing you fear the most and will not be able to handle the “monster” you created. Don’t fool yourselves…just look at Detroit and other cities where crime is running rampant because of you and those like you.

  • brmckay

    I’ve read through most of the comments so far. Didn’t see any mention of the part that we in the U.S. play in keeping the drug cartels in business.

    It’s time to put some shame on users of cocaine. All we do is arrest people. We need to help them see the harm that their lack of awareness causes.

    Like our devastation of the environment, the world we live in can only take so much.

    Glossing over the root cause of the problem, inevitably yields the results that we see now.

    There is one root cause. Lack of Awareness is our primal sin, and we waste so much time obsessing over the effects of it. And those get worse every season.

  • Daddy-Government Knows Best

    The statement about them simply fleeing the crime is based on deceptions. First off, the crime is not as high in all of the nations they are coming from. Also, the crime is not bad everywhere in the high crime nations, so they could simply flee to a different part of their own nation to escape it. Also, the highest murder rate nation they are fleeing from is about the same as Detroit in our own nation…

    All that being said, I do believe it is a humanitarian crisis on our border. Created BY THIS ADMINISTRATION, ON PURPOSE!

  • Frank Pierson

    Mr Henson,
    You need to know that despite the best efforts of Sheriff Paul Babeu and the local Tea Party Oracle, AZ soundly rejected Murietta style conflict. In fact, those welcoming refugee children far outnumbered those trying to blockade. Oracle citizens have formed the Have a Heart Campaign from the Heart of Oracle to support the children when they take up temporary residence at Sycamore Canyon Academy just outside our town. There is an alternative to fear mongering and we in Oracle seek to embody it.
    Frank Pierson, 35 year Oracle resident

  • Guest

    Christian Bible-twisters try to make Lev. 19:33 mean illegal aliens…
    The primary definition of “Ger” is “guest,” and the idea that the guest may also be a foreigner is only implied, not stated.

    When we know people, want them to visit us, and invite them over, those are guests. When we’ve never seen them before, they force their way in, and they refuse to leave when asked, well . . . the police have another name for that.
    – Daniel Greenfield, FrontPage Magazine

  • Author C N Sensse

    Well said.How many of these children are you willing to take into your home, I wonder?