Border crisis is a test of Texans' faith

Photo by Bob Daemmrich

The thousands of unaccompanied children entering the U.S. are straining Texas’ resources and testing our state’s motto, friendship. What will history say about the humanitarian crisis on the Texas border?

The failure causing the influx of migrants now filling overcrowded facilities in Texas is not one of immigration policy but a humanitarian crisis caused by economic woes and growing violence in these children’s home countries. Voices of fear and desperation on all sides are dehumanizing the crisis. Texas’ future is tied to how we greet our new friends and help them become a part of our story.

Today, over 26 ethnic groups in Texas trace their ancestry to various parts of the world. Because of our shared experiences, our diverse faith traditions teach us to welcome our brothers and sisters with love and compassion, regardless of their place of birth. My Christian faith teaches me that how we treat the stranger and those in need is a core religious value, and that to welcome the stranger is to welcome a child of God. 

The Hebrew Bible tells us, "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger, for "what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me" (Matthew 25:40). The Quran tells us that we should "do good to … those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet" (4:36). The Hindu Taittiriya Upanishad tells us "the guest is a representative of God" (1.11.2).

Our broken immigration system is not the result of any one party’s policy but a national failure for which even the voters are answerable. As people of faith, we must pray to end the unjust conditions by protecting those who have come to us for aid and by enacting humane immigration reform. The story we're writing about immigration in this age offends the dignity of a civil society, and it’s a legacy worth changing.

Texas, like all border states, pays a toll for detaining and incarcerating refugees. We must decrease the use of detention centers for immigrants and improve conditions by enacting clear, enforceable reforms that include rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel and legal orientation programs. The government should also expedite the release of individuals who pose no risk to the community, and it should expand the use of community-based detention alternatives, which are more humane and cost effective.

This is only the first in a suite of changes that are needed to build a more humane immigration system.

A humane system is focused on family unity. It keeps families together and builds strong communities that are economically viable and provide health and wellness to all who inhabit them.

A humane system allows undocumented immigrants and their families to earn lawful permanent residency upon the satisfaction of reasonable criteria, with a pathway to citizenship.

A humane system seeks to ensure that the immigrant worker in Texas has access to livable wages and a safe working environment.

Nobody is arguing that we should not implement immigration laws that prevent the entry of dangerous criminals. Rather, all immigration laws must respect the dignity of all people, prioritize family and community cohesion, recognize the economic contributions of immigrants, and uphold our moral obligations to provide refuge and welcome the stranger.

The right to migrate and the right to support a family are fundamental human rights. As people of faith and God fearers living in a civilized society, we must commit to the difficult work of changing our immigration system because we value family unity, justice, equity, compassion, love and the humane treatment of all people.

I doubt history will ignore how we protected our borders. History instead will note how Texas took care of the children that came to her. History may yet tell a tale about how we were made stronger by facing our crisis courageously instead of casting blame for political gain. History may tell how innovative Texans resolved to ensure the health and safety of all those who sought her aid while increasing the economic success of their society. It is my hope that history will tell future generations about how this generation remembered the Texas motto of friendship.

C. Andrew Doyle

Episcopal bishop of Texas