Earlier this week, President Trump delivered an Oval Office address on immigration that sought to stoke fear and hatred in the hearts of the American people. He pleaded for funds to build a monument of bigotry that we don’t need. Today, President Trump visited the border town of McAllen, Texas to double down on his racist and immoral rhetoric. People of faith must condemn racist ideology.
Children and mothers seeking safety at our borders from insurmountable violence are deserving of compassion and basic human dignity not tear gas, violence and vengeance. After nearly two years of hearing President Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric, it’s hard to recall what an ethical president would say during a visit to the border. But a president driven by fairness and integrity instead of fear and hate might say this:
My Fellow Americans,
Our country has a storied history as a nation of immigrants and a leader on human rights in the wake of the Second World War. We must strive again for that greatness.
Right now, a small but significant caravan of refugees have fled their beloved homelands of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. They come to the border seeking safety and freedom. Most are families: children, mothers, grandmothers, who are praying that we are true to our ideals and that we do the right thing by those who are seeking freedom.
I see families in exodus, fleeing violence and oppression. Love for their children and families propels the brave and perilous journey through the wilderness.
I have looked into the eyes of fathers who have fled with sons who would be forced by gang leaders to kill or be killed. I have looked into the eyes of mothers and grandmothers carrying young children, facing unimaginable perils to get these vulnerable babies to safety. They are haunted by the murders of their husbands, their sons, the violence done to their daughters. Our immigrant neighbors risk a dangerous journey because to stay is to be killed.
When I see our immigrant neighbors, I see Moses, who led his people out of tyranny through the desert to a promised land. I think of God’s often repeated command in the Hebrew Bible to remember that we too were once slaves, aliens, sojourners in a foreign land. I try to remember who I am, that my ancestors too fled religious intolerance and violence for freedom on these shores. I imagine my own forbears and how they hoped that they too would be well-received and given a chance.
Religious charities receiving immigrant families along the border have inspired the policies I am announcing tonight. In a Catholic respite center in El Paso, I stood before a cross. On it were the shoes of God’s children who fled with great hope, but perished in the desert. I watched Sr. Norma Pimentel welcome one hundred families under the slogan on her door which read: “advancing human dignity.” I saw a small, tired boy on his father’s shoulders light up, smile and wave as the staff applauded his arrival. I listened to an 11- year-old boy tell me how his father had been murdered, and that his one wish in life was to be welcome here in America.
And so tonight, I call upon us as Americans to harness our better angels, to build upon the greatest moments of our history, to live out the call of our faith traditions.
Tonight, I announce the Promised Land Initiative. Although some have called for more walls, I echo the words of Pope Francis to “build bridges, not walls.” Rather than fund more fortifications, we will fund development in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to help them recover from decades of civil wars and drug wars, which our own policies helped worsen. We will also fund efforts to end drug addiction through rehabilitation and by holding drug manufacturers and doctors accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic. We must reduce the demand for drugs here in America.
In the meantime, we will fund humanitarian aid for refugees at the border. We will see to it that no more children die unnecessarily or are ripped by border guards from the arms of loving relatives. We will hire more lawyers to process asylum claims quickly and efficiently so that no family languishes in prison for months or years on end.
All of this will cost far less than a wall and make us all safer. When we live by compassion and fairness, when we implement the ethical precepts of our faith, we will live in peace. Only when we follow God’s commands will this nation be truly blessed.
This is what a President committed to the best ideals of America and the best traditions of our faiths would say. This isn’t what President Trump announced. He sees America as a small and fearful nation which cowers in the face of people seeking asylum. Instead, we must be bold in our welcome and confident in our compassion.
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