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.’
The seven Latino congregations of the Diocese of Washington gathered for their annual summer picnic last weekend. It was, in many ways, like any church picnic. There were delicious food and games for the children. Blankets and chairs were spread out on the grass, where elders sat and talked. But the mood among those who are known for their joy was subdued.
We watched the children take turns swatting a piñata until candy fell like rain. As they swarmed to collect their treasures and then began bartering among themselves, the adults assembled in a circle.
Naturally, they wanted to talk about what we’re all talking about–the families being separated at the border and the children detained alone without human embrace. Many of our people made a similar border crossing under equally traumatic circumstances, fleeing their homes not because they wanted to, but because they had no choice.
The damage to individuals and families from such treatment is incalculable, and our Latino brothers and sisters are visibly shaken by this latest expression of increasingly harsh treatment of those seeking safety in the United States.
Our conversation shifted to what’s happening to our people here. We spoke at length about one family in particular—active members at Church of the Ascension in Gaithersburg. The father, Fredy Diaz, was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) early one morning as he was on his way to work. He and his wife have three children, who are left without his income to meet family expenses and have no means to pay for his legal defense. (See Latino Missioner Sarabeth Goodwin’s article here.)
Some of our teenagers and young adults, and many of their peers are among the Dreamers whose legal status is in jeopardy. Many of our members have lost their protected legal status in the last year–some who have lived, worked, and raised their families here for a decade or more–and they don’t know what to do. How can they possibly return to the countries where so many are desperate to flee levels of violence and poverty unimaginable to most Americans?
Such questions are not only being asked in our Latino congregations, but also in our other immigrant-rich congregations, where members of the African diaspora face the same status vulnerabilities as so many Latin American immigrants who tend to dominate national headlines. The immigration crisis affecting our country, however–and our diocese–is not limited to one demographic, but many. How are we to care for one another, as siblings in Christ?
I assured our Latino brothers and sisters that they were not alone, that across the diocese we are praying for them in love and are eager to widen the circle of support for those in need. I told them that religious and civic leaders are speaking out against current immigration policies in larger numbers than ever before, and that we would continue to do so. It is my hope and prayer, I said, that the border separations would, at last, cause sufficient public outcry to bring about a change.
Thankfully President Trump has retreated now from the policy of separating families at the border. Yet the fate of the 2,300 children already in detention is not clear, nor do we fully understand the implications of what will happen next. The executive order signed yesterday (June 20) does not solve the crisis. But those of us fighting with the immigrant community can see it as a shift that has occurred in direct response to our public outcry.
To the many in the diocese who have contacted me in the last week wanting to do more both to offer support for immigrant and refugee families and to mobilize for a more humane immigration policy: thank you. I am proud to serve as your bishop. This is not a partisan issue that divides us. It is a moral concern that unites us as Americans, as people of faith, and especially for those of us who follow Jesus.
The truth is that family separation has been happening daily far before the recent crisis at the border that detained children separate from their parents. Family separation happens each day a parent is unjustly detained by ICE for no crime other than trying to live their life faithfully in the country they’ve called home for decades. These are families like that of Fredy Diaz, and these are our siblings in Christ.
We are not powerless in the face of such pain and suffering. Christ is with us, to the end of the age, and the Holy Spirit, working in us, can do infinitely more than we could ask for or imagine. But Christ does need us–ours are the hands with which he works, ours the feet on which he moves; ours the voices with which he speaks to this world.
Here are several concrete things we can do, right now, to help ease someone’s burden or to mobilize for change.
We are establishing an Immigrant Relief Fund at the diocesan office, to be used to help families with economic support and legal fees when someone in our diocesan community is detained. If you would like to make a contribution, go here, or mail a check to Church House with “Immigrant Relief Fund” noted in the memo line.
As members of the Episcopal Church, we are blessed with leadership through our Office of Government Relations. Listed on their immigration action page are a number of specific actions we can take, both in response to the immediate crisis and to educate ourselves on the complex issues of immigration reform, and commit ourselves to long term solutions.
I am proud that the diocese voted at our annual convention this past January to become a sanctuary diocese. As has previously been shared in our weekly e-news, the work of our Sanctuary Sub-committee in equipping our communities to “to serve as places of welcome and healing, and to provide other forms of material and pastoral support” to immigrants, is ongoing. If your community has not considered getting involved yet, you might want to visit our sanctuary page or contact Latino Missioner Sarabeth Goodwin about how members of our Sanctuary Sub-committee can support your community’s discernment process.
Finally, do not underestimate the power of your prayers and the grief that God has placed on your heart. Allow God to speak to you and through you in this time, and be guided by what the Holy Spirit places in your heart.
One day our children and grandchildren will look back on this era’s treatment of refugee and immigrant children–much like we look back now on the more shameful chapters of our history. They may ask us what we did to work for change. I’m grateful to serve among so many who are speaking out, offering to help those most affected, and doing all you can to end this latest and most cruel policy of separating traumatized children from their parents. You are Christ’s love in action, his hands and feet, and compassionate heart in this world.