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Family separation policy is immoral

June 24, 2018
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

One of the memorable moments of the spring U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly occurred during a discussion on immigration, migrants and refugees.

Regarding the recent extreme measure authorizing the separation of families who have crossed our southern border illegally, one bishop said the policy is symptomatic of a dangerous case of “cardiosclerosis,” a hardening of the heart.

Obviously, he used the medical term analogously, but the point he made has stayed with me. Are we not succumbing to a gradual hardening of our hearts toward our suffering brothers and sisters?

It is inconceivable that our great nation, which once prided itself on welcoming waves of immigrants as they passed beneath the great Statue of Liberty and invited “the homeless, tempest-tost” huddled masses yearning for freedom to find refuge in this land of liberty, is now behaving with such heartless disregard for the plight of these suffering families. Adding insult to injury is the attempt to use the Bible to justify this policy of separating young children from their parents.

Since recently implementing a zero-tolerance policy and prosecuting adults as criminals for unauthorized crossing of the U.S./Mexico border, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and placed in detention centers. Brothers and sisters are separated from one another as well.

While defending our nation is certainly important, we can find a more humane way to secure our borders without further traumatizing children and harming vulnerable families.
The family is the foundation and bedrock of human society. Our government can find the discretion within a legal framework to ensure that children and parents are not separated. The fundamental principles of Catholic social teaching call for respect for the dignity of the human person and protecting the family. We dare not forget these principles nor the values and virtues that have forged our national identity.

Many migrants make the difficult decision to seek refuge in another land only when they have exhausted all other reasonable options to live in safety and security at home. Like you and me, they would prefer to stay in their homeland. This is certainly the case with these families fleeing gang-violence and human trafficking in Central America.

Many of these families, often mothers with children, are severely traumatized by the violence in their homelands by the time they reach our border. The zero-tolerance policy of separating parents and children serves only to deepen that trauma.

We can do better. We must do better. The current policy is not the answer. Separating families is not the answer. It is immoral and un-American.