Good Samaritan

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700446167Yesterday’s gospel reading at Mass was about the Good Samaritan. Most people know the story of the man lying by the side of the road, beaten and robbed, while the religious leaders of the day passed by without helping him. The Samaritan, a kind of outcast, was the only one who took pity on the victim and hastened to his aid.

There are many lessons to take away from this parable, but the one the priest focused on in his sermon was this: There is a difference between knowing the right answer and doing what is right – a difference between following the letter of the law and practicing compassion. The pastor’s sermon had special poignancy at a time when President Trump is stepping up deportations of illegal immigrants, detaining large numbers of migrants at the southern border, and failing to unite separated children from their families.

It’s true that there are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many Americans believe that accommodating these millions has become far too heavy a burden and that border enforcement needs to be increased. Donald Trump’s call for a wall separating the U.S. from Mexico became a rallying cry for these frustrations.

Border enforcement is one thing. Separating children from their parents and keeping unaccompanied children in inhumane detention centers is just wrong. Many border officers have voiced disquiet at the conditions these migrant children are living under and their role in enforcing President Trump’s policies. Like the Good Samaritan, they see that the fact something is legal does not necessarily make it right.

The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable are following the law as well. Ancient Jewish law prohibited them from exposing themselves to human blood. So in the strictest sense, they were following the rules. The Samaritan, whose mixed ancestry and religious practices made him anathema to the Jewish people, depended less on rules and regulations and more on his heart. There are times when compassion and love trump the law.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” Like many lawyers, this man was trying to get Jesus to misspeak, to contradict the law of Moses and thus bring condemnation on himself. How often have human beings insisted upon following the letter of the law to the detriment of others?

I believe that if someone were to ask Jesus that question today, he would respond with a similar story that might involve our treatment of minorities, would-be immigrants, and other marginalized people.

Who is my neighbor? The one who needs my help, my compassion, and my love.

A Moral Failure

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There are many damaging actions Donald Trump has taken since becoming president: rolling back environmental protections, attacking LGBTQ rights, saber rattling against Iran, to name a few. But nothing comes close to the heinousness of housing migrant children in deplorable warehouses without even their own families for comfort.

Reports coming out of these holding facilities are horrendous: children having to take care of children, inadequate food and water, illness and lice infestation, children sleeping on the floor – even children dying while in custody. As Americans, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for being associated with such a heartless and inhumane policy.

Many of the children being held in these prisons have family members in the United States who could care for them. But that is not being allowed. Instead, they are being subjected to horrific conditions with inadequate supplies or oversight by adults. While I don’t share Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s opinion that they are concentration camps, these facilities fall far short of the conditions under which we should be willing to place any child.

The irony was not lost on protesters when the Trump Administration announced plans to reopen Ft. Sill in Oklahoma to house thousands of unaccompanied migrant children. Ft. Sill has been used for, among other things, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. To be fair, the Obama Administration also used Ft. Sill for detaining immigrants. But it should give us pause to think of forcing children to live in a place haunted by the inhumanity of our past.

I’m also disappointed by the silence in the Christian community to what is happening near our border. While evangelicals are busy championing the rights of the unborn, they are turning a blind eye to infants without diapers, children suffering and sometimes dying of contagious diseases, and countless little ones who will be forever scarred by their memories of being caged in these horrible places without a loved one for comfort.

Jesus told his followers, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 40) Let us not be condemned by his corollary saying: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

 

The Wall

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Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” So begins Robert Frost’s memorable poem “Mending Wall.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that poem as President Trump and the Republicans dig their heels in about erecting a wall across our southern border with Mexico.

Illegal immigration has become a divisive issue in our country and one that is long overdue for compromise. While I sympathize with the plight of Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence and believe our country should do everything in our power to help relieve suffering, I also recognize that we need to protect our borders and insist upon an orderly process whereby residents from other countries apply to live in the U.S.

The problem is that building a giant wall on our border with Mexico is expensive, environmentally damaging, and impracticable. And most of all, it won’t really work to stem the tide of illegal immigration or deter criminal activity. Most drug and weapons seizures, for example, occur at legal ports of entry. U.S. authorities have also found tunnels running under existing fences and other barriers, so those determined enough will still find ways to get into our country. And the urgency to build such a barrier has, if anything, decreased over the past decade, as illegal border crossings are at a 12-year low.

The wall is not a practical reality but a symbol: a symbol of Donald Trump’s attempts to portray nonwhite immigrants as criminals. Ironically, Trump’s stance against Central American immigrants has spawned the phenomenon of migrant caravans crossing into Mexico, a kind of thumb on the nose to the president and his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The other reason Trump is insistent upon building a wall is that he wants one, and he hates to lose. He is willing to shut down the government and let federal workers go without pay so that he can get his “big, beautiful” symbol of exclusion and isolation. Meanwhile, no meaningful conversations go on about realistic ways to secure the border and deal with the thousands of immigrants already in this country.

President Trump, we don’t need a wall with Mexico. What we need is leadership, something that has been sorely lacking since you became president two years ago. It’s time to ditch the idea of an expensive and impractical wall, sit down with Democrats, and work on real solutions to our immigration issues.