Central America

With Controversial ICE Raids Ongoing, White House Announces Refugee Resettlement Plan

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Due to a sudden wave of ICE raids and deportations of asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America, the White House has faced anger from numerous Democrats in Congress, who drafted a letter denouncing the raids. This new refugee plan, which sets up screening facilities in Central America, aims to reduce human smuggling as well to slow the flow of undocumented immigration.

WATCH: This Is What Deportation Looks Like

The Mejia family
The Mejia family. Via Sin Pais.

On the day Sam and Elida we to be deported, I arrived at the airport, with the entire Mejia family, and was witness to one of the most intensely sad events I’ve ever seen: a mother and father saying goodbye to their children, not knowing when they would see them again. As I drove home from the airport that night, I thought to myself, if every politician, faith-leader, and citizen in the U.S. could have met the Mejia family, and then seen the family ripped apart, the U.S. would not be deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. The raids that are descending on immigrant communities right now, targeting Central American families who recently crossed the border escaping extreme violence, would most likely not be happening. The de-humanizing term ‘illegal alien’ would not proliferate across our airwaves.

What Would Oscar Romero Say Today About El Salvador?

Photo via Wikimedia / Public Domain
Photo via Wikimedia / Public Domain

Central America needs help expanding education opportunities, building child welfare systems, and sheltering victims of violence and witnesses to crime. But none of these reforms can be sustained unless Central American governments also work to eradicate corruption and reform their judicial systems.

As Romero said during a time of similar urgency, “On this point there is no possible neutrality. We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. … We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

Survey: Most Americans Say U.S. Should Shelter, Not Deport, Child Migrants

A PRRI study shows attitudes toward Central American children arriving at the border. Graphic by Emily Fetsch, courtesy of PRRI.

Most Americans say the waves of children crossing into the United States from Central America are refugees fleeing danger at home. And they say the United States should support these children while reviewing their cases, not deport them immediately.

These largely sympathetic views come all points along the political and religious spectrum, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute released Tuesday.

Democrats (80 percent), independents (69 percent), and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway.

Most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent).

(The survey sample of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims, or Mormons).

“It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI. “The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.”

Kicking a Bad Habit

IN LATE FEBRUARY, Guatemala’s foreign minister, megachurch-pastor-turned-politician Harold Caballeros, announced that he had formally raised the topic of drug legalization with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That same month, Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti started a Central American whirlwind tour to raise the issue of legalization with heads of state from El Salvador to Panama.

Panamanian President Martinelli, the leftist administration of Mauricio Funes in El Salvador, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla, and Honduran President Porfirio Lobo have agreed to meet to discuss the topic, though Baldetti cautioned that results “will not come overnight.” Also joining the dialogue is Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, the formerly Marxist president whose political resurrection coincided with a conversion to socially conservative Christian faith. Ortega professed to “fully share the concern” of the Guatemalan government. Caballeros’ conversation with Secretary Clinton went nowhere, of course; the Obama administration is not about to act on such a hot-button issue, especially in the midst of an election year.

But the move was gutsy for a Guatemalan administration that was only in its second month of power. So far, most Latin American presidents have broached the topic of legalization only after leaving office. Former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Vicente Fox of Mexico, both pro-business allies of the U.S. while in power, have been outspoken proponents of legalization in recent years and were members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose 2011 report urged “experimentation ... with models of legal regulation of drugs.” The emergence of such key proponents has likely opened up new political space to discuss what had been largely off-limits in formal U.S.-Latin America diplomacy talks.

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Faith at the Tipping Point

Ada María Isasi-Díaz is a leading voice of mujerista theology, a liberation theology rooted in the everyday experience of Latinas. As her foundational 1996 book Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century puts it, her work aims at creating “a public voice for Latinas and capturing a political space for that voice,” including in academic theology. Isasi-Díaz is professor emerita of ethics and theology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg interviewed her in November at the Call to Action conference in Milwaukee.

Elizabeth Palmberg: The U.S. will soon reach a demographic tipping point at which no ethnic group is in the majority. What challenges and opportunities do you see this presenting to Latina spirituality, and to the nation as a whole?

Ada María Isasi-Díaz: We’re either going to have a radical change in perspective or continue to have enormous inequality and ill-treatment of people whom we see as “other”—who don’t look like those in power, are not white, and so forth. The tipping point means that the hour of reckoning is coming. One of the things we need to work on is: How do we change? How do we understand differences?

We have always equated differences with incompatibility, but that’s not true. Many differences are not incompatible. That’s the kind of work that we need to demand of our leaders—church leaders, political leaders. We need to talk about differences; we can’t just sweep them under the rug. Differences do not have to divide us; they can enrich us.

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Justice Delayed

During the Central American wars of the 1980s, nearly 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared. The bloodiest period came during the presidential term of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, when entire villages were burned and civilians, primarily indigenous people, were massacred.

Rios Montt was a graduate of the U.S. School of the Americas and received millions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. He was also an evangelical/Pentecostal minister and a darling of the Religious Right.