By Bishop Gerald Barnes
The family is the fundamental center of human life. The love, support and formation that takes place within a family—shared by a father and mother with their children—is essential to the fulfillment of God’s plan for us as individuals and as community. This cannot be overstated.
Through the leadership and writings of Pope Francis, in documents like his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Church is re-emphasizing the sacredness of marriage and family, and looking for new ways to support families in the many challenges they face.
This is happening in a catechetical sense. But we are also called to take notice of and respond to specific situations and challenges that impact family life. One very painful and egregious example of this is recent reports of tactics now being carried out by federal immigration enforcement officials in regard to undocumented persons and their children.
We have long said that current federal immigration law has the tragic effect of separating families. Now we are seeing this play out before our very eyes. In a continuation of its divisive rhetoric and actions on the issue of immigration, the administration of President Donald Trump has declared a “zero tolerance” policy for those who cross the southwest border of the United States without documentation. This means that parents are detained and immediately put into deportation proceedings while any children that are with them – no matter how young – are held separately in detention facilities for an indeterminate period of time.
How does experiencing this kind of trauma of separation affect a child? What are the long term effects on their psyche and on their faith? As people of faith, what is our responsibility to these children? These are questions we should ponder as we pray for and put ourselves in solidarity with families caught in this terrible circumstance.
Immigration policy is surely a hot-button political issue and a complicated one. It stirs feelings in some of us that, when respectfully expressed, need to be heard and considered. At the same time, this mean-spirited and dehumanizing behavior from our government leaders, the separation of children from their parents, cannot in any way be reconciled with what our Catholic faith tells us about human dignity, family and the call for us to care for the poor, the migrant and refugee.
Our Church’s ministry on the issue of immigration covers several areas, including direct service to immigrants, themselves, helping the faithful to understand Catholic teaching on immigration, and advocacy for just and humane public policy on immigration. We are also called to raise a public and prophetic voice when we see actions that run counter to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. “…for I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt. 25)
We have arrived at such a moment. We must not let ourselves become indifferent to the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Let us offer our voices and our prayers on this matter of human life and dignity. Urge your elected representatives to come to the table and craft a lasting legislative repair to this broken system. And open your heart to the families who are being torn apart in the name of national security. Learn their stories. Hear their cries. Be their voice.