Dear Sisters and Brothers,
In reflecting on the canonization of St. Óscar Romero, I had an opportunity to read the last homily he delivered in the moments before he was killed.¹ St. Óscar was an outspoken critic of the civil war in El Salvador and a champion of those who suffered in that conflict during his three years as Archbishop of San Salvador, until his murder in 1980.
Though he knew his life was in danger, St. Óscar encouraged us in that homily to bring light to the despair and suffering we see in the world. In his words, “[I]t is worthwhile to labor, because all those longings for justice, peace and well-being that we experience on earth become realized for us if we enlighten them with Christian hope.”
In reflecting on those words, I can’t help but also think of the light, joy, and hope on the faces of the mother and children of the migrant family we are accompanying with St. Agnes Parish. In listening to the mother at Mass and watching the family interact with one another and with members of our parish during the Family Picnic, one could sense Jesus’ love in abundance. Though their journey toward asylum is not over, your efforts at providing them some peace and well-being while they seek justice is an embodiment of Christian hope.
In addressing us during the homily at the Family Picnic Mass, the mother of the migrant family was very gracious in her thanks to us. But, she did not stop there. She also asked that we remain generous and continue to accompany and support other migrants, too.
Regrettably, the need for accompaniment and support continues. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (in conjunction with the Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service) recently released a report on the work done and lessons learned from the family reunification efforts at the United States’ Southern Border this past summer.² That Report makes several observations worth noting.
Its first observation is that the make-up of migrants at the U.S./Mexico border has shifted significantly in recent years. Historically, those migrants were mostly Mexican men, seeking seasonal employment. That is no longer the case. Instead, most of the migrants crossing the border are families and unaccompanied children who started their journeys in Central America. Those families are seeking protection in the United States. The USCCB Report notes:
“A primary factor is the endemic violence that the residents of Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are facing due to gang infiltration and corruption. Increasingly, families and children in poorer neighborhoods throughout the Northern Triangle are being targeted, threatened, and extorted by gangs and armed criminal groups. This is occurring more frequently as gangs expand their reach and control over neighborhoods, moving from solely urban and suburban communities to rural and agrarian communities as well. Additionally, situations of domestic and family violence pervade many homes and often are met with impunity and inaction due to the corruption within the law enforcement system and the weak civil protection scheme. As a result of these conditions, many of the families and children who arrive at the U.S./Mexico border have often been internally displaced in their own country several times in search of protection and have migrated north as a last resort.”
The USCCB Report underscores that these families, particularly children, are already traumatized in many ways before they even reach the U.S. border, and outlines the additional trauma that separation from parents and family has imposed on these children, the, likely, long-term negative effects of that trauma, and the lack of any U.S. response or resources to counter that trauma.
In addition to calling for the U.S. government to not separate migrant children from their parents, the USCCB Report also offers thoughts on how to provide future migrant families humane treatment consistent with immigration laws (for there is no sign of the situation in the Northern Triangle improving any time soon). Catholic Charities and other religious organizations have helped operate programs that are alternatives to mass detention of migrants and families. These programs avoid inflicting more trauma on children and families and help conserve limited government resources. They also help establish or strengthen community ties for those with credible asylum claims.
The current Administration in Washington, however, recently proposed a rule change that is inconsistent with the Report’s observations. Specifically, the Administration has proposed dismantling court-imposed safeguards for migrant families known as the Flores standards. Those standards currently limit the time government may detain--that is, keep imprisoned--migrant children and their families. Through rule changes, the Administration is looking to expand the number of families that may be held in detention, eliminate the time limit on family detention, make it more difficult to release children from detention by restricting the types of the relatives to whom children can be released to parents and legal guardians only, eliminate the requirement that detention centers must submit to state inspections, and increase the number of beds in private, for-profit detention centers from 3,000 to 12,000.
So, the call to action.
Our Parish Solidarity Statement, https://www.stignatiussf.org/program/parish-solidarity-network, includes our advocating for a more just immigration system. The Administration’s proposed rule change has not yet been finalized. We all have an opportunity to comment on it in the next few weeks and advocate for more humane treatment of migrant families. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network has prepared materials to help educate you on this issue and allow you to provide comments on the proposed rule: https://cliniclegal.org/resources/defend-immigrants-taking-part-federal-rulemaking-process. The comment period closes on November 6, and there will be tables at all the Masses during the next two weeks with more information.
In addition, our Las Vecinas de El Salvador social ministry program will be hosting a delegation from San Antonio Parish, our sister parish in Soyapango, El Salvador, in mid-November. There will be opportunities to hear from our guests during the Masses on November 17-18 and to talk to them at our annual Pancake Breakfast on Sunday morning. Please take this opportunity to learn more about the situation in El Salvador and the Northern Triangle, and what efforts we, as Christians, can bring to draw justice, peace, and well-being closer to realization for all.
Returning to St. Óscar’s final homily, I ask that if you are interested in learning and doing more, please reach out to our parish Solidarity Network and get involved. No effort is too small. For, as St. Óscar reminded us, “Every effort to better a society, especially one that is so enmeshed in injustice and in sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God desires, that God demands of us.”
Oremus pro invicem,
¹ It is available on America magazine’s website: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/10/12/homily-oscar-romero-was-delivering-when-he-was-killed