Advocates declare human rights must be a priority at the U.S. border
The U.S. spends $9.2 billion on border security, more than any other nation
Human service workers, faith leaders, and immigration law experts are calling on lawmakers to make certain that immigrants and asylum seekers get the due process promised in law. They also called for Biden’s administration to make good use of the overwhelming loads of money that is spent on border security to ensure humane treatment and called on people of conscience to step up to provide humane support in line with their faith and morals.
“This community today reminds one another that we are in communion and struggle to advocate, to walk in justice, to be life-givers and peacemakers,” said Sister Mary Brigid Clingman, of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids in her opening prayer. “We walk with courage into the struggle knowing that You are walking with us. We say yes, so be it, amen.”
This past week, US Senators used visits to the Southern US border as an excuse to avoid even debating legislation to protect undocumented immigrants or create a pathway to citizenship. However, The US spends the most on border security. In 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had a budget of $52.7 billion, more than the entire gross domestic product of countries from where many asylum seekers are coming from, such as Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador.
“Some people have been forced into irregular means of entry to try to access the asylum protection system precisely because the regular pathways through ports of entry have largely shut down,” said Attorney Alex Vernon, Director of the University of Detroit Mercy Law Clinic. “We do have the resources to protect the lawful right of people to seek asylum, preserve public safety and due process.”
DHS allocated $5 billion of this to construct brief stretches of an ineffective border wall. Another $2.7 billion was used to detain immigrants, including the infamous cages where children were kept after being separated from their families. This despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers abide by US asylum laws.
It wasn’t always like this.
“In the 2000s, asylum seekers were treated like real human beings,” said Eloise Garley, an immigrant who fled civil war in Liberia with her husband. “The asylum process is not related to proximity to the border. Rather, it is people seeking stability, safety, and dignity from various forms of oppression.”
Case in point, Jose Luis Pedraza, a recipient of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who fled with his family from political persecution in Venezuela in 2016. "My wife and I worked for the state’s electric company. She was threatened at gunpoint and on one occasion beaten by Maduro supporters. Whenever the power went out, they accused her of sabotage and being a sellout but in reality, the power went out due to a lack of maintenance and investment in infrastructure." Pedraza wanted to stay and fight to make things better but when he saw colleagues murdered for having different political beliefs, and when his kids began being the targets of threats and intimidation, he knew it was time to go. “Even, when we would take our kids to school, supporters of the Maduro’s regime would ride by on motorcycles and bang on our car with their helmets to harass and intimidate us. We had to leave Venezuela to save our lives. We now live under a relative peace of mind, but we still live under the fear that our asylum case will be denied and we will be sent back to danger.”
But unlike Pedraza’s children, many juveniles seek shelter in the US without their parents. “Community members interested in taking direct action steps to support unaccompanied children in our community can contact Samaritas,” said Daniel Soza, who works for the organization that helps unaccompanied children in Michigan. “Samaritas serves children coming to the US to unite with family by placing them in temporary foster homes while staff work to unite them quickly with family or sponsors in the United States. For youth without family in the US who can care for them, Samaritas places them into long-term foster homes and provides services to help them prepare for independent adulthood in a new country. Each foster home offers an alternative to a shelter and provides the loving, nurturing, compassionate human interaction that all children need.”
You can support these children by donating to Samaritas, opening your home as a foster parent to an unaccompanied child, or considering a career with Samaritas Refugee Foster Care. Go to Samaritas.org or reach out to RFCinfo@samaritas.org for more information.