Two years ago, the Trump administration enacted the ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ in an effort to deter asylum seekers from presenting themselves at our Southern border. Our government put children and families in overcrowded icebox cages, ‘hieleras,’ within detention centers and separated 2,737 children from their guardians.
The national — and global — outcry was swift. In one of many actions, 3,000 of us Christian women contacted our representatives and called on then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop the cruel, inhumane, un-Christian policy. Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Sandra Van Opstal, and I, along with more than 500 other women, represented this group at the Customs and Border Protection building in Washington, D.C., on June 19. The next day, June 20, President Trump signed an executive order to end the policy.
While we celebrated the supposed change of course, we know the administration found new and creatively evil ways to crush those seeking asylum through the Remain in Mexico Policy, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols, in which the U.S. sends asylum seekers over the border, often placing them in filthy and dangerous conditions, in the cities of Juarez, Tijuana, Matamoros, and Nuevo Laredo. Or we put them on planes to Guatemala without telling them where they are going, smack dab in the den of danger and peril once again. Previously they waited in the United States for their asylum hearings.
And two years after the crisis of family separation horrified the nation, we face a repeat — this time under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple agencies report that parents in detention are being forced to make an impossible decision: Sign a form releasing their children from custody and detention (who knows what will happen to them?) or remain in indefinite detention with their children in unsafe conditions with no defense against the coronavirus.
Amnesty International cites cases at three Family Residential Centers (FRCs): the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Penn., the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas.
“Multiple parents requested the opportunity to speak with their lawyers before making a decision on the form, and were denied that opportunity,” Amnesty’s report reads. “ICE refused to provide either parents or their attorneys copies of the form. One officer told several mothers that 'it doesn't matter what you sign because we will do what we want.'"
Some parents testify that the forms were in English, and they couldn’t read them.
Make no mistake: This posture toward immigrants and asylum seekers is methodical. Systematic. It is one in a long line of tactics this administration uses to deter those fleeing violence and poverty from making their way to the United States to request asylum. The editorial board at the Los Angeles Times writes, “Beyond the inherent inhumanity of closing our ears to people asking for protection, the administration is unilaterally undoing decades of U.S. asylum law. Whether Trump has that authority is a matter for the courts, where his lawyers have been spending an awful lot of time defending cockamamie and outrageous moves …”
It is time to rise a second time. Like Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives of Exodus 1, we have to stand between the state, that is, our own government, and the serious ruin it seeks to inflict on children and families. We are standing in the gap #ForEveryChild. Pharaoh had explicitly commanded Shiphrah and Puah to kill all Hebrew boys born. Recognizing this command as outrageously morally perverse, they valiantly refused to do it (Exodus 1:15-17). And God blessed their obedience to him and disobedience to the state. Our own government is endangering children and families, acting like Pharaoh.
We must bear witness, to act, like Shiphrah and Puah, to keep our administration from the inhumanity, trauma, and death they are hell bent on inflicting on these children and families.
We are asking Christian women and others to contact the administration to decry this new round of family separation. Michelle F. Warren, Nikki Tyoma-Szeto, Gena Thomas, Hannah Vickner Hough, Christina Foor, and I are leading this second charge through the #ForEveryChild #DontLookAway #FamiliesBelongTogether campaign. We ask Christians, especially Christian women, to cry out on social media and contact their representatives to stop this repeat attempt at family separation. Our voices and actions made a difference two years ago, and I am confident they will again.