According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Evil Amongst Us: The Suffering of Refugee and Immigrant Children at American Borders

Central American migrant in southern Mexico on his way north to the United States.
Creative Commons Copyright: 
Peter Haden

The Evil at Our Borders: Migrants, Refugees, and the Spiritual Crisis of Immigration

by David R. Henson
July 15, 2014

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He is priest in the Episcopal Church, canonically resident in the Diocese of Northern California. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student. He is behind on the laundry.


It is evil.


Treating child refugees like criminals is evil.

Since October, some 52,000 children from Central America have been taken into custody as they crossed into the United States, overwhelming the U.S. system meant to handle only a few thousand. For more than a week, politicians, pundits, and pastors have debated how to handle this crisis.

For conservatives, it is an immigration crisis, demonstrating the failures of the U.S. immigration policy and the need for militarized borders.

For liberals, it is a humanitarian crisis, demonstrating the failures of U.S. economic policy, the immediate need for aid, and the necessity of immigration reform.

For me, while I agree with progressives here, it is also a profoundly spiritual crisis. It is a crisis of faith, and right now, we are not the bearers of liberty, hope, democracy, or good news. Rather, we are the bearers of evil.

These children are fleeing a region with the highest murder rates of any place on the planet. The majority of children — 75 percent — come from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, countries with the highest murder rates in the world thanks to violent drug gangs. These children are fleeing forcible enlistment into the violent armies of Central American drug cartels.

They are fleeing a culture of death. Treating them as anything other than refugees in need of asylum is evil.

Imagine a child risking life and limb to escape only to be sent straight back to the guns, the drugs, and near-conscription. Imagine a child trying to find a life that doesn’t involve the high likelihood they will die in excessively violent streets only to be told not to worry because they’ll be back home soon, where everything is safe and sound. But that home country is overrun by violence and death. That home is what they were fleeing in the first place. Not because they had bad, unloving families, or were chasing the American Dream, or were looking for Easy Street in the U.S. social service system, or wanting to steal jobs from hard-working Americans.

Central American migrants ride atop a train, nicknamed the Beast,
as they travel toward the United States-Mexico border.
Creative Commons copyright 
Peter Haden
Central American migrants ride atop a train, nicknamed the Beast, as they travel toward the United States-Mexico border. Creative Commons copyright Peter Haden

But simply because they didn’t want to die.

And that’s the reality for many of them. If we deport them to their home countries, we might as well sign their death certificates.

So, if you consider yourself pro-life, you had better be on the side of life on this one. And that means asylum for these child refugees.

If you take the Bible to be God’s literal, inerrant truth, then you had better be on the side of these refugee children. God is unequivocally clear in Scripture that we are to welcome the alien and the refugee, not question them, detain them, and deport them.

If you want to be a Christian, you have no choice but to let the little children come. You have no choice but to welcome the stranger, who just happens to be your neighbor.

Otherwise, you’re just a damned liar. Or at the very least, you are lying to yourself.

You cannot be a Christian and reject these children.

The protests that greeted these child refugees in Murrieta?


The political posturing by politicians and pastors pontificating that securing borders, building walls, deporting children is somehow humane or what Jesus wants?


It is evil to send children to their deaths.

Especially when you have the power to do otherwise.

And it is evil, profoundly evil, to create a world with so few good options for children that they take to the tops of deadly trains rather than taking to their own streets. That is precisely what the United States has done to Central America.

We have been unmasked in this crisis. Our deeds have been exposed. We have done evil, this evil that enslaves us, this evil done on our behalf.

There is evil at our borders, most certainly. But it’s on our side. And it’s of our own making.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Pope Francis

Pope Francis: Immigrant Children Must Be 'Welcomed And Protected'

The Huffington Post | By Antonia Blumberg

Posted: July 15, 2014

Pope Francis confronted the "racist and xenophobic attitudes" that often face undocumented immigrants by addressing the thousands of unaccompanied children included in their ranks.

In a message delivered to the Mexico-Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development on Monday, the pope drew attention to these migrant children who he said often undertake the dangerous border crossing alone in order to escape violence in their home countries:

"This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin."

Pope Francis noted the urgency of this predicament, saying that the numbers of migrant children "are increasing day by day." U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports that more than 50,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed the Southwest border so far in 2014.

While Pope Francis delivered his message, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin spoke at Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretariat and urged clergy and foreign ministers to protect young migrants.

"Whether they travel for reasons of poverty, violence or the hope of uniting with families on the other side of the border," Parolin said, "it is urgent to protect and assist them, because their frailty is greater and they're defenseless, they're at the mercy of any abuse or misfortune."

The cardinal reiterated the Vatican's support for this cause, saying, "The church will always support at the national and international level any initiative directed at the adoption of correct policies."

Outside of the church, though, the pope also called for the international community to take steps toward finding a humanitarian solution to the immigration crisis.

"This challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted."

On Sunday Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell met privately with dozens of governors of states that will host thousands of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America. The program, initiated by the Obama administration, will go into effect in October and aims to tackle the growing influx of child migrants.

"We want to make sure they're placed in a safe and supportive home or placement," Burwell said, "but also, it should be somebody that is legal and somebody that will be responsible to see that they show up for the hearing."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Children of the Drug Wars

A Refugee Crisis, Not an Immigration Crisis

by Sonia Nazario
July 11, 2014

CRISTIAN OMAR REYES, an 11-year-old sixth grader in the neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, tells me he has to get out of Honduras soon — “no matter what.”

In March, his father was robbed and murdered by gangs while working as a security guard protecting a pastry truck. His mother used the life insurance payout to hire a smuggler to take her to Florida. She promised to send for him quickly, but she has not.

Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head and dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it, and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house.

“I’m going this year,” he tells me.

I last went to Nueva Suyapa in 2003, to write about another boy, Luis Enrique Motiño Pineda, who had grown up there and left to find his mother in the United States. Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus. Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras — more than from anywhere else.

Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa last month, a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.

Gangs arrived in force in Honduras in the 1990s, as 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha members were deported in large numbers from Los Angeles to Central America, joining homegrown groups like Los Puchos. But the dominance in the past few years of foreign drug cartels in Honduras, especially ones from Mexico, has increased the reach and viciousness of the violence. As the United States and Colombia spent billions of dollars to disrupt the movement of drugs up the Caribbean corridor, traffickers rerouted inland through Honduras, and 79 percent of cocaine-smuggling flights bound for the United States now pass through there.

Cristian Omar Reyes, 11, wants to get out of
Honduras “no matter what.” SONIA NAZARIO
Narco groups and gangs are vying for control over this turf, neighborhood by neighborhood, to gain more foot soldiers for drug sales and distribution, expand their customer base, and make money through extortion in a country left with an especially weak, corrupt government following a 2009 coup.

Enrique’s 33-year-old sister, Belky, who still lives in Nueva Suyapa, says children began leaving en masse for the United States three years ago. That was around the time that the narcos started putting serious pressure on kids to work for them. At Cristian’s school, older students working with the cartels push drugs on the younger ones — some as young as 6. If they agree, children are recruited to serve as lookouts, make deliveries in backpacks, rob people and extort businesses. They are given food, shoes and money in return. Later, they might work as traffickers or hit men.

Teachers at Cristian’s school described a 12-year-old who demanded that the school release three students one day to help him distribute crack cocaine; he brandished a pistol and threatened to kill a teacher when she tried to question him.

At Nueva Suyapa’s only public high school, narcos “recruit inside the school,” says Yadira Sauceda, a counselor there. Until he was killed a few weeks ago, a 23-year-old “student” controlled the school. Each day, he was checked by security at the door, then had someone sneak his gun to him over the school wall. Five students, mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, tearfully told Ms. Sauceda that the man had ordered them to use and distribute drugs or he would kill their parents. By March, one month into the new school year, 67 of 450 students had left the school.

Teachers must pay a “war tax” to teach in certain neighborhoods, and students must pay to attend.

Carlos Baquedano Sánchez and his mother, Lovena Lidibeth Baquedano Sánchez, in
their home in Nueva Suyapa, Honduras. Carlos is determined to leave. SONIA NAZARIO

Carlos Baquedano Sánchez, a slender 14-year-old with hair sticking straight up, explained how hard it was to stay away from the cartels. He lives in a shack made of corrugated tin in a neighborhood in Nueva Suyapa called El Infiernito — Little Hell — and usually doesn’t have anything to eat one out of every three days. He started working in a dump when he was 7, picking out iron or copper to recycle, for $1 or $2 a day. But bigger boys often beat him to steal his haul, and he quit a year ago when an older man nearly killed him for a coveted car-engine piston. Now he sells scrap wood.

But all of this was nothing, he says, compared to the relentless pressure to join narco gangs and the constant danger they have brought to his life. When he was 9, he barely escaped from two narcos who were trying to rape him, while terrified neighbors looked on. When he was 10, he was pressured to try marijuana and crack. “You’ll feel better. Like you are in the clouds,” a teenager working with a gang told him. But he resisted.

He has known eight people who were murdered and seen three killed right in front of him. He saw a man shot three years ago and still remembers the plums the man was holding rolling down the street, coated in blood. Recently he witnessed two teenage hit men shooting a pair of brothers for refusing to hand over the keys and title to their motorcycle. Carlos hit the dirt and prayed. The killers calmly walked down the street. Carlos shrugs. “Now seeing someone dead is nothing.”

He longs to be an engineer or mechanic, but he quit school after sixth grade, too poor and too afraid to attend. “A lot of kids know what can happen in school. So they leave.”

He wants to go to the United States, even though he knows how dangerous the journey can be; a man in his neighborhood lost both legs after falling off the top of a Mexican freight train, and a family friend drowned in the Rio Grande. “I want to avoid drugs and death. The government can’t pull up its pants and help people,” he says angrily. “My country has lost its way.”

Girls face particular dangers — one reason around 40 percent of children who arrived in the United States this year were girls, compared with 27 percent in the past. Recently three girls were raped and killed in Nueva Suyapa, one only 8 years old. Two 15-year-olds were abducted and raped. The kidnappers told them that if they didn’t get in the car they would kill their entire families. Some parents no longer let their girls go to school for fear of their being kidnapped, says Luis López, an educator with Asociación Compartir, a nonprofit in Nueva Suyapa.

Milagro Noemi Martínez, a petite 19-year-old with clear green eyes, has been told repeatedly by narcos that she would be theirs — or end up dead. Last summer, she made her first attempt to reach the United States. “Here there is only evil,” she says. “It’s better to leave than have them kill me here.” She headed north with her 21-year-old sister, a friend who had also been threatened, and $170 among them. But she was stopped and deported from Mexico. Now back in Nueva Suyapa, she stays locked inside her mother’s house. “I hope God protects me. I am afraid to step outside.” Last year, she says, six minors, as young as 15, were killed in her neighborhood. Some were hacked apart. She plans to try the journey again soon. Asking for help from the police or the government is not an option in what some consider a failed state. The drugs that pass through Honduras each year are worth more than the country’s entire gross domestic product. Narcos have bought off police officers, politicians and judges. In recent years, four out of five homicides were never investigated. No one is immune to the carnage. Several Honduran mayors have been killed. The sons of both the former head of the police department and the head of the national university were murdered, the latter, an investigation showed, by the police.

“You never call the cops. The cops themselves will retaliate and kill you,” says Henry Carías Aguilar, a pastor in Nueva Suyapa. A majority of small businesses in Nueva Suyapa have shuttered because of extortion demands, while churches have doubled in number in the past decade, as people pray for salvation from what they see as the plague predicted in the Bible. Taxis and homes have signs on them asking God for mercy.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recently interviewed 404 children who had arrived in the United States from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico; 58 percent said their primary reason for leaving was violence. (A similar survey in 2006, of Central American children coming into Mexico, found that only 13 percent were fleeing violence.) They aren’t just going to the United States: Less conflicted countries in Central America had a 712 percent increase in asylum claims between 2008 and 2013.

“If a house is burning, people will jump out the window,” says Michelle Brané, director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

TO permanently stem this flow of children, we must address the complex root causes of violence in Honduras, as well as the demand for illegal drugs in the United States that is fueling that violence.

In the meantime, however, we must recognize this as a refugee crisis, as the United Nations just recommended. These children are facing threats similar to the forceful conscription of child soldiers by warlords in Sudan or during the civil war in Bosnia. Being forced to sell drugs by narcos is no different from being forced into military service.

Many Americans, myself included, believe in deporting unlawful immigrants, but see a different imperative with refugees.

The United States should immediately create emergency refugee centers inside our borders, tent cities — operated by the United Nations and other relief groups like the International Rescue Committee — where immigrant children could be held for 60 to 90 days instead of being released. The government would post immigration judges at these centers and adjudicate children’s cases there.

To ensure this isn’t a sham process, asylum officers and judges must be trained in child-sensitive interviewing techniques to help elicit information from fearful, traumatized youngsters. All children must also be represented by a volunteer or government-funded lawyer. Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit that recruits pro bono lawyers to represent immigrant children and whose board I serve on, estimates that 40 percent to 60 percent of these children potentially qualify to stay under current immigration laws — and do, if they have a lawyer by their side. The vast majority do not. The only way to ensure we are not hurtling children back to circumstances that could cost them their lives is by providing them with real due process.

Judges, who currently deny seven in 10 applications for asylum by people who are in deportation proceedings, must better understand the conditions these children are facing. They should be more open to considering relief for those fleeing gang recruitment or threats by criminal organizations when they come from countries like Honduras that are clearly unwilling or unable to protect them.

If many children don’t meet strict asylum criteria but face significant dangers if they return, the United States should consider allowing them to stay using humanitarian parole procedures we have employed in the past, for Cambodians and Haitians. It may be possible to transfer children and resettle them in other safe countries willing to share the burden. We should also make it easier for children to apply as refugees when they are still in Central America, as we have done for people in Iraq, Cuba, countries in the former Soviet Union, Vietnam and Haiti. Those who showed a well-founded fear of persecution wouldn’t have to make the perilous journey north alone.

Of course, many migrant children come for economic reasons, and not because they fear for their lives. In those cases, they should quickly be deported if they have at least one parent in their country of origin. By deporting them directly from the refugee centers, the United States would discourage future non-refugees by showing that immigrants cannot be caught and released, and then avoid deportation by ignoring court orders to attend immigration hearings.

Instead of advocating such a humane, practical approach, the Obama administration wants to intercept and return children en route. On Tuesday the president asked for $3.7 billion in emergency funding. Some money would be spent on new detention facilities and more immigration judges, but the main goal seems to be to strengthen border control and speed up deportations. He also asked Congress to grant powers that could eliminate legal protections for children from Central America in order to expedite removals, a change that Republicans in Congress have also advocated.

This would allow life-or-death decisions to be made within hours by Homeland Security officials, even though studies have shown that border patrol agents fail to adequately screen Mexican children to see if they are being sexually exploited by traffickers or fear persecution, as the agents are supposed to do. Why would they start asking Central American children key questions needed to prove refugee status?

The United States expects other countries to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees on humanitarian grounds. Countries neighboring Syria have absorbed nearly 3 million people. Jordan has accepted in two days what the United States has received in an entire month during the height of this immigration flow — more than 9,000 children in May. The United States should also increase to pre-9/11 levels the number of refugees we accept to 90,000 from the current 70,000 per year and, unlike in recent years, actually admit that many.

By sending these children away, “you are handing them a death sentence,” says José Arnulfo Ochoa Ochoa, an expert in Honduras with World Vision International, a Christian humanitarian aid group. This abrogates international conventions we have signed and undermines our credibility as a humane country. It would be a disgrace if this wealthy nation turned its back on the 52,000 children who have arrived since October, many of them legitimate refugees.

This is not how a great nation treats children.

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