Monday, July 14, 2014

Those unaccompanied children crossing the border? They are Jesus #ActOfLove

Nationalism is one of the great idolatries of the past century. People of faith have allowed their nationality to take precedence over the unity they have in Christ, and the unity we have in our common humanity. Either way we look at the current "surge" or "border crisis," as secular citizens of this nation or Christian readers of this blog, the way we are treating marginalizing children who come to our border for refuge represents a major moral failure.

The United States is currently debating what it calls a humanitarian crisis, and failing at it miserably. It remains to be seen whether we will welcome the children coming across our borders faithfully--as refugees, vulnerable minors in need of safety and protection--or whether we will perceive them as threat--harbingers of a future with increasing numbers of children crossing our border and in need of deportation.

A few years ago, I made the argument in Lutheran Forum that we need to consider immigration and refugee issues in light of the doctrine of baptism. I still think our doctrine of baptism is a significant resource for considering the current border crisis.

However, in this case, we also need to consider it simply as a humanitarian crisis. We need to advocate for justice. These children need our love.

For more on how you can get involved directly and immediately, please go to the Lutheran and Immigration and Refugee Service page for Houses of Welcome,

I think it helps for us to remember that Jesus was a child refugee. Stephen Bouman of the ELCA says, 
“As people of faith, we are reminded that among the children who had to flee across borders because of threat of life was our very own Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When children flee across two international borders alone, the community of Jesus – the church – must accompany them,” said the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director, ELCA congregational and synodical mission. - See more at:
Lutherans have been active in advocacy for unaccompanied minors for years, especially centered in and through the work of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Anyone interested in participating in this advocacy can visit to learn more.

Jesus Christ, consistent with his childhood experience, as an adult was mindful of the need not to exclude children. All three of the synoptic gospels take time to report Jesus' teaching on the place of children in our communities:
Matt. 19.14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
Mark 10.14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
Luke 18.16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.
If as Christians and as a nation we are truly going to accompany these children in their experience as migrants and refugees, we are going to need to practice what that means on every side of the border. Many of the conversations right now about whether to deport or not (will deportations reduce the number of children who risk the dangerous journey north?) still focus solely on border security, with very little concern for who the individual children are, and their stories.

The issue is further complicated by the different legal processes we put in place depending on whether someone who arrives at our border has a legitimate claim to refugee status, or whether they are attempting to cross the border as an undocumented immigrant.

All of that being said, I think the current situation with unaccompanied minors seeking refuge at our border illustrates a larger failure of Christian and Western imagination: a disdain for children. It boggles my mind that a nation like ours wouldn't welcome vulnerable children with open arms and care for them. We certainly don't want to create a situation where children flee family and home unnecessarily, and we should work in relationship with neighboring nations to the south to ensure they are communities in which children can flourish... but in the meantime, the most important point should be that children are a good and beautiful thing, and they are entrusted to us collectively to care for and nurture that they might flourish. Children are an opportunity, not a burden. They are an entrustment, not a crisis.

All of our conversations, legal proceedings, sanctuary offering, border patrolling, and more, needs to start with this basic assumption, that children are a great, great good, a blessing (Genesis 17:6).

Another portion of the ELCA press release reads:
“We confess with the wider church that all Christians are responsible to attend the needs of the lost, forgotten and lonely,” said Kuhlman. “St. Luke's has this as a central part of our mission statement. Foster children, wherever they are, need love and care and a family to help them become what God can make them to be. Christians in the United States must help children in other countries find places free of violence and abuse where they can experience loving support and new opportunities.” 
“Our Lutheran church members could help here by becoming foster families or by supporting those who are able to give this gift to these young people,” said Gordy. “Along with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, our Immigration Ready Bench bishops continue to push our elected officials to fix a broken immigration system and to support those who come here as refugees.” 
To help address the influx of unaccompanied children coming to the United States, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has launched a national advocacy campaign led by youth and young adults. The agency announced the “#Act of Love” campaign at a May 27 press conference in Washington, D.C., where, according to a press release, “young people from across the U.S. expressed their concerns for the refugee children and detailed plans for a social media campaign which includes a petition written and signed by young people and addressed to President Obama, Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.” The petition “urges lawmakers to provide adequate emergency funds to address this humanitarian crisis, improve protections for children and collaborate with UN agencies, other NGOs and faith communities to offer safety to children.” - See more at: 
The most confusing issue here is how to be the most effective, and help the most children the most quickly. American lawmakers tend to talk about it as a crisis in partisan politics, a sign of our broken immigration system. Or they address it practically: what is the least expensive option that will get the children deported more quickly?

However, we passed a law back in 2008 unanimously with bipartisan support, one of the last bills signed by Bush, that made a distinction between children coming into the country from Mexico, and children coming from other non-contiguous South American countries. The reason for this distinction: It is important to discern whether children coming to our border are refugees rather than voluntary immigrants.

On this issue, I think I am with the Republicans more than the Democrats. In a recent report on NPR:
"There are Republicans who say they want to fix the law but still provide for asylum where necessary. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain have proposed a bill that would speed up the process for getting these Central American kids back home but, at the same time, increase the numbers of kids who could claim asylum."
We don't want kids languishing for an unnecessarily long time during the process of assessing the legitimacy of their refugee claims, but we also don't want to deport children back to the dangerous situations they fled. We don't want coyotes to take advantage of families, promising parents security for their children while actually placing them in danger, but we need to approach the entire situation consistently from one perspective... that of the children, and Jesus accompanying them all along the way.

The Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be primarily focused on getting funding for an expedited deportation process:
"There are fault lines in the Democratic Party. Immigration advocate groups and Hispanic Caucus members and some progressive Democrats don't want the law changed. On the other hand, you have Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Leader in the House, say she's fine with having it changed because she needs - we need to solve this humanitarian crisis. And you've got the administration sending Jay Johnson, the Homeland Security Director, down to the border to these detention facilities to tell these kids you will be sent home."
The response by Pelosi and Jay Johnson is seriously wrong-headed. It's focused on expediting deportation and solving an immigration issue rather than treating children seeking refuge in a humane and caring manner. This is not a humanitarian crisis because it is an immigration crisis. It is a humanitarian crisis because adults aren't treating children humanely.

Where is Jesus Christ in all of this? He is with the children. As people of faith, we need to begin from that perspective, and ask ourselves how we want to treat Jesus Christ and these kids.



  1. Compassion for children is not a sign of weakness or a lack of patriotism.

  2. We need you to continue your leadership in welcoming the newcomer. With children crossing the border at an unprecedented rate we are in a humanitarian crisis. With nowhere else to go, mothers and children are ending up into detention centers which delay or risk their humanitarian relief. But, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has opened the door to viable, community-based alternatives to detention centers for mothers and children.
    This is your opportunity to make a lasting impact.
    Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service seeks your help in creating “Houses of Welcome” across the country. If you, your congregation, or your network have access to a residence or can support the efforts to create others, please help. Detention centers are no place for families.
    And while we know this current spotlight will eventually go away, we must remember that those fleeing for their lives will continue to come to this land of refuge. Jesus calls us to show hospitality to strangers and love our neighbors. Thank for you for responding to that call. Continue to be champions for newcomers. Advocate for their safety. And please use your resources to create more “Houses of Welcome.”
    For more information, please go to
    In faith and justice,
    Matt Herzberg
    P.S. If you are interested in providing money to LIRS in support of these children and families, please donate here: