Immigration response: Sisters condemn family separation, say root causes of migration remain unchanged

Immigrant children are seen at a tent city in Tornillo, Texas, June 18. (CNS / Reuters / Mike Blake)

This article was updated with additional statements on June 21, 2018, 11:07 a.m. Central time.


On June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the separation of families who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border together illegally, after weeks of criticism of the policy, which has been ongoing since U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the change May 7.

Photos and video of children in detention cages went viral, stirring a bipartisan outcry that included voices of religious. Here's a sampling:

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

The USCCB opened its annual spring assembly June 13 by issuing a statement by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. On June 20, Pope Francis unequivocally endorsed the bishops' stance:

Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.

Sisters of the Humility of Mary

The Sisters of the Humility of Mary in northeast Ohio issued a statement criticizing both the separation policy and the June 5 immigration raid on Corso's Flower and Garden Centers in Sandusky:

Once again, children are separated from parents, families are left without means of support and the economy of our region suffers. … We join the United States Catholic Bishops, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a host of other faith communities in opposing the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their families as they seek refuge from violence and death in their own homelands. Breaking up families and caging children is not who we are as a nation. …

We, Sisters of the Humility of Mary, join with others in prayer as we call upon concerned citizens to contact their legislators and demand that they advocate for just and humane immigration policies that continue to promote the United States as a beacon of hope for those who suffer from violence, poverty and injustice throughout our diverse, global community.

Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

The congregation in Scranton, Pennsylvania, addressed the new policy of not recognizing domestic violence as cause for asylum, too:

Recognizing the inherent dignity of every human being and protecting the integrity of families are fundamental tenants of our faith. They are foundational for a healthy and just society.

As women religious, we raise our voices against the recent decision of the United States Attorney General that potentially strips asylum protection for women who are victims of domestic violence. We urge the Attorney General and all policy makers to enhance the potential of our asylum system to protect the right to life. Protecting the integrity of the family structure, the welfare of innocent children, and the dignity of all human life are pro-life issues that demand immediate action.

The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary community in Monroe, Michigan, issued its own statement on the policy:

Nearly 2,000 migrant children have been intentionally separated from their parents. Many of these children have traveled hundreds of miles fleeing violence in their home countries. They have likely already been exposed to immense trauma. Separating them and locking them up in separate detention facilities will only further expose them to potentially irreparable psychological and emotional harm. This practice is not only unprecedented, it is cruel and immoral. Furthermore, separating children from their parents will not fix the pervasive root causes of migration from the most violent areas of Central America.

We urge the Trump administration to immediately halt this practice of family separation. If the administration refuses to act, we urge Congress to enact stand-alone legislation that prohibits the separation of families.

Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Lawrence Couch, director of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd's National Advocacy Center, said in a statement the congregation raises its voice "with the First Ladies of the U.S., republicans and democrats, people of faith or no faith":

At every corner, people are condemning President Trump's decision to tear apart children from their parents at the border.

We are a nation of laws, but the law that this Administration is following is one that previous Administrations were able to ignore or by-pass. So why the strict enforcement now? Intimidation seems to be the answer.

A pregnant Mary with Joseph fled into the land of Egypt where Jesus was born. Imagine if Jesus had been torn from his parents upon their return to the Holy Land. Jesus — a refugee — called us to welcome the children. We must not sit idly by while this Administration threatens and intimidates them.

This new policy of separating families at the border is a new low, but one which seems to offer a bottom. People of all stripes have spoken and said that this is not acceptable; this is not who we are.

Dominican Sisters of Peace

The congregation in Columbus, Ohio, addressed its call not to the government, but to citizens, urging them to speak up on behalf of families:

In honor of the central role that Mary and all mothers have in our world, please call your Congressperson to protect immigrant children and families seeking safety and shelter from violence by keeping these families together. …

Separating parents from their children will not deter families from seeking safety and security in the U.S. Such a policy will not cure the pervasive root causes of migration existing in the violent areas of Central America.

Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The congregation in Dubuque, Iowa, cited its founders, who immigrated from Ireland to educate the children of immigrants fleeing starvation and oppression:

We join with other people of faith in seeking to replace the radically unjust U.S. immigration system with one which is just, humane and compassionate. We call for a halt to immoral policies and practices.

As women of faith, we challenge our national leaders to join with us in assuming responsibility for bringing an end to inhumane immigration policies. Paramount among these are the separation of children from parents, the housing of children in detention centers, the cruel uncertainty clouding the lives of eligible DACA recipients for whom this nation is their only home, and the closing of our doors to asylum seekers.

We make this pledge as followers of our foundress Mary Frances Clarke and in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of persons enduring irreparable harm at our borders.

Sisters of Bon Secours

The Sisters of Bon Secours USA said in a statement that they are "deeply grieved by the agony that is being experienced by immigrant families seeking asylum in the United States and are outraged that a morally unjust policy that separates children from their parents is being implemented at the southern border."

And:

We join the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in condemning this practice that "amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life and is a serious violation of the rights of the child" and we call on our government to put an immediate halt to this immoral practice. …

To our migrant brothers and sisters, we promise to accompany you on your journey not only through our prayers for your safety and security but also through our continued advocacy for just and fair migration policies.

Network, a Catholic social justice lobby

In addition to a statement criticizing the separation policy, Network executive director Sr. Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, issued a video criticizing Sessions' attempt to use the Bible to endorse the practice:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump are wreaking havoc at our border and across our nation. Their 'zero-tolerance policy' that has torn 2,000 children from the arms of their parents in the past month is heartbreaking. This is the latest anti-immigrant move from the same administration that ended DACA for Dreamers months ago.

Family separation goes against everything we as people of faith believe. It goes against who we are as a nation. The separation of parents from their children is unconscionable.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

School Sisters of Notre Dame Sr. Ann Scholz, LCWR's associate director of social mission, was among the 6,000 women of faith who signed an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security demanding an end to the separation of families:

In all of our faith traditions, women have always taken action when their families and communities have been at risk of grave evil and injustice: from Hagar fleeing with her son, to Esther intervening on behalf of her people, to Mary escaping with Jesus to protect him from Herod's genocide. We stand in the tradition of these women of valor to defend families from the pain and trauma of our government's cruel and inhumane treatment.

By tearing apart families, our government traumatizes children of God and tramples on our values. The soul of our nation is at stake.

Scholz also issued her own statement:

Family is the bedrock of our society; the cornerstone of our immigration system; and a foundational element of our faith. As women of faith, as Catholic sisters, we condemn the Trump Administration's decision to forcibly separate parents from their children in an effort to punish families seeking safety. Like Mary and Joseph who fled the horrors of King Herod to save their infant son, these mothers and fathers are taking tremendous risks to bring their children to safety. These are families forced to flee violence and death in their home countries. They have the right, even the obligation, to seek protection for their children and we are morally obligated to welcome them.

Catholic Health Association

Daughters of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said the policy poses a "grave risk" to the health of children:

As Pope John Paul II said in Familiaris Consortio, "In the Christian view, our treatment of children becomes a measure of our fidelity to the Lord himself." The way we treat children is also a reflection on the moral fabric of our society. It is the hope of CHA that this immoral policy will be reversed and that these children can be reunited with their parents.

Society of the Sacred Heart, United States-Canada

"Saint Madeline Sophie Barat stated that she would have founded the Society of the Sacred Heart for the 'sake of a single child.' Because this commitment to the safety and well-being of children is at the heart of our mission, the United States-Canada Province stands in strong opposition to the present policy of separating children from their parents as they seek asylum in the United States. This policy terrorizes and traumatizes children, and it must be stopped. The need for immigration reform does not give our government permission to violate the dignity or basic human rights of these families and we cannot remain silent while this is happening."

Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.

CLINIC blasted Trump's June 20 executive order, saying it merely pays lip service to the outcry over the practice. CLINIC Executive Director Jeanne Atkinson issued a statement saying other current policies will continue to break families apart, and noting that the order does not address the thousands of children already separated from their parents:

We will be watching to see whether the administration follows the law concerning how long it may keep families in detention. ...

The administration deserves no credit for heeding the enormous public outcry about this barbaric practice. This was a crisis of their own creation, a thinly veiled and spectacularly failed political stunt that deserved every ounce of criticism it received from the public, politicians, religious leaders and corporations.

However, this order will do nothing to stop other administration policies that have been breaking up families for a year and a half. Ending DACA; cutting of Temporary Protected Status for many countries; the Muslim travel ban; reducing eligibility for asylum; slashing the number of refugees admitted; conducting workplace raids; and making every undocumented immigrant "a priority" for deportation will continue to break apart families and keep them apart.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

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