“The wall” has dominated the US political conversation for past several years; however, building walls is not a new political idea. China built the “Great Wall” to stop Mongolian invasions, and former USSR built the “Iron Curtain” including the iconic “Berlin Wall” to separate itself from the West. The most troublesome element of the current political talk about the wall however, is the cavalier attitude with which the military war machine is being utilized in a civilian matter.
This past Sunday, the Pueblos sin Fronteras (People without Borders) after a monthlong harrowing journey from Honduras, finally arrived at US border station at San Ysidro. In desperation, a caravan of about a thousand people, mainly women with young children, left Honduras to escape the violence in their country. They left with hopes of being able to raise their families in safe neighborhoods with good schools. Their hope was to ask for asylum as refugees.
When the news of the caravan was reported, US government dispatched armed soldiers, not to welcome but to threaten the innocent refugees from seeking asylum in the US. It is appalling that the country which claims to be the most Christian nation in the world, responded to mothers, who are trying to keep their families alive, by pointing machine guns at them. These individuals came to our border and asked for asylum in accordance with International laws regarding refugees, the same way those who came to Ellis Island in previous centuries. Our shame is that while the previous “European” asylum seekers were greeted with the words of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the “Central American” refugees were met with the armed soldiers threatening to kill them.
On Monday, the US government, the largest economic engine in the world, claimed that it did not have enough resources to process the 150 who finished the journey, and interviewed only about 25 people in first two days. In comparison, on April 17, 1907, the US had the capacity to process and accept 11,474 refugees seeking asylum. As of my writing, I am reading about tired women and children who are forced to sleep out on the street for the second night in the rain. The irony is that while the US government only had several agents who could interview and process refugees, there were several hundreds of armed soldiers with machine guns. I am reminded of Matthew 25 when Jesus told his disciples of what those who did not take care of people in need will receive from God. May God be merciful even when we are not.
The question for the Church is how we respond as people of God when aliens and foreigners come to our shores seeking freedom from tyranny and relief from violence and war. There are many who are providing food, blankets, emotional support, and spiritual guidance to the travelers, but there are many more who are at the border with resolve to ensure that these people are not allowed in “their” country. We must push our government to act ethically and justly. We cannot remain silent.
The Berlin Wall, the iconic symbol of separation and oppression, fell in 1989. The background story is that since late 1970s Poland’s Catholic Church under the leadership of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the man who would later become the Pope John Paul II, created a summer camping program to teach young people Biblical values and ethics. The end result is that many of these young people grew up to be border guards and decided that because of their faith, they could not shoot refugees who were seeking freedom. As you can guess, when the guards would not shoot, the wall became meaningless. Later that year, with the world watching with tears of joy, the young people from East and West Berlin worked together to tear down the wall. Today, pieces of that wall are in various museums around the world as a reminder of our common resolve to never again build walls to keep people from freedom.
The Berlin Wall reminds us that the desire for freedom is always more powerful that the wall of fear.