Friday, March 28, 2014

The Soul-Threatening Immigration Story

First Published by Religion News Service. A Spanish language version of this blog can be read here.

 By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

 The saga of immigrants in 2014 may go down in history as a blight on America. Tragedies abound, from thousands who have died trying to cross the desert into the United States from impoverished Mexican towns, to little children born here and fighting for their parents to remain in the country with them. The government is setting records separating families, approaching 2 million deportations in the past five years.

Los Angeles’s Archbishop Jose Gomez wants “a moratorium on any further deportations or immigration raids and arrests, except in cases of violent criminals.” In his archdiocesan newspaper Archbishop Gomez noted that “one in every four persons who is being arrested or deported is being ripped out of their homes — taken away from their children, their wives and husbands, all their relatives.”

Children have brought him letters they had written to Pope Francis, which he sent to the Vatican. He quoted from a letter from Jersey, whose dad had been in an immigration detention center for two years and now is being deported.

“Dear Pope Francisco, Today is my birthday. My birthday wish is I would like to have my dad to be with me. …It has been so long that he hasn’t been with me on two of my birthdays, last year and today. … Since my father isn’t here my mom and sister have been trying to find a job. … Since you are the closest to God, I beg you to help my family. … Sincerely, Jersey.”

That’s heartrending, as are accounts of the more than 6,000 people who have died in the past 15 years crossing the desert to our Land of the Free. On April 1, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and several other U.S. bishops will pray at the border wall in Nogales, Arizona for those immigrants who have died trying to earn bread for their children. They will also pray for the family members who are without loved ones because of the deportations.

The United States loves data, but I hope it won’t be judged by its damning statistics.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has deported close to two million persons in the past five years, an average of over 400,000 persons a year. How many families were wrenched apart?

U.S. Office of Management and Budget reports that the U.S. Border Patrol budget has increased tenfold since 1993, from $363 million to 3.5 billion. Given that the undocumented population has tripled since 1986 to 11-12 million people today, by economic standards this is a weak return on investment.

Department of Homeland Security reports that as of February 2014, almost 700 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing has been completed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Perhaps a boon for the confinement industry.

The Congressional Record Service reports that 208,939 unauthorized immigrants were prosecuted as criminals under Operation Streamline from 2005 to the end of fiscal year 2012. They are sentenced in “group” trials that provide apprehended immigrants few legal rights. Aren’t guaranteed legal rights one of the hallmarks of our democracy?

In fiscal year 2012, Department of Homeland Security incarcerated over 477,000 persons, a record. Since 2003, about 2.5 million immigrants have been detained in the U.S. detention system. Surely they did not comprise 2.5 million threats to the U.S.

The data shows that our nation’s effort to cope with undocumented persons does not work. It is costly, most especially, I fear, for the soul of a nation.

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