A Moral Emergency

President Trump has recently called migration at our southern border an “emergency of the heart and soul.”  Indeed it is an emergency, but for different reasons than the President seems to think. First, the recent and best non-partisan data indicates that the tide of immigration has actually slowed over the last 2-3 years, although the level of global migration — of which Latin American migration is only a small part — is at historic and high levels (Pew Research Center, November 2018).

So while the President is wrong about a “crisis” on our southern border, he is right about the heart and soul of our nation being at stake.

The soul of our nation is at stake in the way we speak about and treat people and in the credibility of the information we use to support our claims.

While some are content to follow political posturing, we claim Jesus’ preaching. Jesus told his disciples in Mark 9:37, “whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the One who sent me.”

By all means we should articulate an “emergency of the heart and soul;” we understand that what is at stake is human dignity, the compassionate care of children, and fairness in legal proceeding. These are the real emergency threats to our well-being and to the long-term health and vitality of our nation.

Remember this — nothing has materially changed on the southern border in the last month. Only the rhetoric has shifted, and that shift comes in light of the government shutdown. More than 800,000 government employees are without pay. Some of those have been deemed “essential” and are required to work now even though they will not be paid until the shutdown ends. All of them have bills to pay, families to support, and futures to plan for. Each one of them is a tax-paying person who holds all of the hopes and commitments that each of us possess. Many of them were not paid during the December holiday season. This is a moral emergency indeed.

In addition to that moral concern, the President is considering diverting disaster mitigation funds intended to provide relief from Hurricanes Harvey and Maria to fund southern border wall expansion. It is unconscionable to imagine that after all Houston and southeast Texas have been through, not to mention our Puerto Rican neighbors, that long-term recovery dollars would be redirected. This is a moral emergency indeed.

To be sure, immigration is a complex issue that needs comprehensive reform. We must have sensible policies that allow the United States to responsibly receive and integrate persons into the country. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants.

And, we write as Christians who are compelled by the command of Scripture to welcome the “widow, the orphan, and the alien in our midst” (Exodus 22, Deuteronomy 24, Jeremiah 7, among many others).

Yes, security is necessary to protect the vulnerable. Comprehensive reform can address all of these elements when the political will exists to do it.

We are asking for something much more basic than passed and signed legislation. We are calling upon the President and all of our leaders, our faith communities, and our neighbors to respond to the true moral emergency at hand — demonizing rhetoric and a culture of fear that actually threaten our country far more than the absence of some length of wall.

Signed (01/15/19) 
The Rev. Dr. Steve Wells, South Main Baptist Church
The Very Rev. Barkley Thompson, Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal)
The Rev. Tommy Williams, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
The Rev. Hannah E. Atkins Romero, Trinity Episcopal Church
The Rev. Dr. John Robbins, Memorial Drive United Methodist Church
The Rev. Neil Willard, Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church

If you would like to add your name to the letter, please leave a comment with your name and hometown.