Thursday, July 3, 2014

Birmingham, Vietnam and Murrieta

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh 

Sometimes a picture says it all. Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, California, turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

The first two images helped turn the tide when they awakened U.S. citizens to a shameful tragedy. We know the aftermath. The Congress 50 years ago passed Civil Rights legislation to guarantee basic human and equal rights for minorities that Civil Rights workers fought (and some died) for. We pulled out of Vietnam, a war we could not win.

We now await a moral conscience moment in the welcoming of children and others escaping the violence in such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Parents and children from these countries have made the difficult decision to leave their homes and have endured dangerous journeys to cross the U.S.-Mexican border. They risk it because the possible horrors of the treacherous migration, such as trafficking, abuse and even death in the desert, still look better than the almost sure death by gang violence at home.

Some hopes exist already. Contrast the mob in Murrieta, with the people of Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. There Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley offers welcome centers at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen and Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville. The youngest guest: a one-day-old baby girl. The baby and others are being helped by a host of volunteers.

Heroes are emerging. First might be Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ (Missionaries of Jesus), executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She is convening the local faith communities to address the problem and organizing the local populace to collect food, medicine, children’s sweaters and hoodies, men’s sneakers, and women’s socks and underwear. The city of McAllen is collaborating by providing portable shower facilities and tents for overnight stays.

Another is Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville. He gets the problem. On his social media blog, he notes: “What we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes is a humanitarian and refuge reality, not an immigration problem.” He adds that “the Church must respond in the best way we can to the human need” and says “at the same time we ask our government to act responsibly to address the reality of migrant refugees. A hemispheric response is needed, not a simple border response. And we ask the government to protect the church’s freedom to serve people.”

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, spoke before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in late June. He called the number of children crossing the US-Mexico border “a test of the moral character” of our nation. “We must not fail this test,” he said.

Right now, the welcoming community of Brownsville and surrounding communities are acing the test. In Murrieta, the mayor and the citizens who drove back the buses need to study more. President Obama looks for ways to return the children to their perilous homeland. The U.S. Congress sits on its hands. To prepare for the test of moral character, protesters in Murrieta, the President and the Congress, might hit the books, especially the New Testament. A place to start is Matthew 25, where Jesus states: “Whatever you do for these, the least of my brethren, you do also for me.”


ConcordMike said...

Calling the protesters in Murrieta a "mob" is extremely biased and uncharitable. Most of those protesting were not racists or anti-immigrant. They were protesting the problematic policies of the Obama administration which is encouraging families with young children to take risks based on false expectations.

Wouldn't it be better to acknowledge the protesters point of view where we can and build bridges rather than attacking them as racists?

Why does this article use race baiting by comparing peaceful protestors in Murrieta with violent racists in Alabama 50 years ago?

This article is hurtful rather than helpful. It is a shame it was allowed to be posted on this website.

Lamb's Wool said...

As an American I am shamed and humbled by the apparent selfishness and hatred demonstrated in Murrieta. As a Catholic I am puzzled and distressed by the silence of clerics in the nations from which these refugees are fleeing. What are they doing to improve the lot of their own people? What are the Bishops of the U. S. saying to their collegues in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico about the injustice of dumping these poor souls, and the responsibility for their well-being, upon the citizens of another, sovereign nation? Let us asknowledge, as we judge the actions of one put-upon and exploited community, that they have been provoked by the failures of people of position and influence.

ziggy said...

The Catholic Church maintains that countries have the moral obligation to regulate immigration. Please define what level of immigration control people can advocate without you demonizing them as haters, bigots and xenophobes.

These protesters are carrying on the work of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers who fought the Federal government not enforcing immigration laws, including manning the border to confront and turn back illegal immigrants. You are very judgmental of them. I support their efforts, and I sponsor children in Catholic missions in Latin America. I care about the least of my brothers in Latin American countries and the poor in America, especially minorities, who will be hurt by the flood of illegal immigration caused by the Obama Administration not enforcing immigration laws.

It takes no moral courage on your part to demonize others and demand that the federal government use the power of the state to expropriate the assets of others to pay for your agenda.

Raymond said...

Not all in Murrieta were a mob wanting to send these back to certain death. The Bishop of San Bernardino, Bishop Gerald Barnes,is at the ready to assist those who might be released in the community. As Murrieta is part of my vicariate (Hemet), I too am ready to assist in any way I can. God bless you for bringing more light to a dark story in our times.

D. J. Reed said...

Comparing the 1963 incident with this is apples and oranges. One was on the right side of the law. This one is not.

Rod MacQuarrie said...

This has nothing to do with civil rights. If you aren't a citizen of a country and you illegally enter another country you don't have the civil right to stay in the new country. You have basic human rights, but the rights by which the new country is governed don't apply to you. Even Jesus said his followers should follow the laws of the land unless they conflict with God's laws, and our laws keep our country safe from the violence these people are supposedly fleeing. These children are illegally trespassing and should be deported and go through the proper channels to enter the country and become citizens. If everyone had jumped on Noah's ark, even Noah and his family would have drowned. I can't just walk into the Vatican and take up residence, spend all their gold, eat up their food, and vote in a Pope that will meet my future needs. Even the Vatican has laws to preserve and protect its integrity and enable Catholics to serve others around the world. Otherwise why don't we just get rid of the borders altogether and let everyone into the USA? Then once these children grow up they can all vote for the same government they left (Socialist) whose policies will result in the same violence they left behind. This is not about fleeing violence. I would bet they met more violence on the way than what they experienced in their home countries. This is about moving to a prosperous country where they know they can have free food, money, cellphones, healthcare if things don't work out and they can't find a job. And once they "steal" jobs from the poor who are actually citizens of this country, they can send more money back home to the parents and family they left behind.