For the past few years the issue of illegal aliens crossing into this country basically. . .has been a non-issue for us in Central New York. We don’t have the ongoing influx of people illegally crossing into this country from Canada as do our brothers and sisters who live on the southern border where thousands of Central Americans attempt to enter the United States each month.
It is hard to believe the issue along our country’s southern border has only recently become a concern. For decades prior to 9/11, the southern border was fluid. It was not uncommon for families to live on one side of the border and work on the other. According to the bishops of Arizona, over the past century the actual location of the border between Mexico and the United States has been unclear and the fluidity across the border was and is necessary to maintain the American economy. The illegal alien that has been vilified these past few years has often been the migrant farmer who has harvested our crops throughout the Southwest and California. It is the illegal alien or undocumented worker who has cleaned our homes, cooked our meals and helped raise our children for wages that were less than most Americans would accept.
Only since 9/11,as our need to control and know who is coming into this country has increased that we have felt the need to restrict access at our borders.
Good, bad or indifferent, the currant humanitarian crisis of thousands of children illegally entering our country may no longer be a problem for our southern brothers and sisters to contend with. On Thursday afternoon, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Minor announced that she has written to the president inviting him to house and process these children right here in Syracuse. And if all goes according to plan, they will literally be in our back yard at the old Salve Regina School.
As residents of the greater Syracuse area we can see the arrival of these immigrant children as both crisis and opportunity. As your priest, I see the arrival as a great opportunity for us, as a Christian people to express the radical hospitality we are called to offer to the very people Christ would have lived among.
This is not to say I do not recognize the strain this would put on the limited social resources we have in Syracuse. As one resident pointed out, even if we are able to house a 1000 or more children, how will we feed, clothe, and educate them when we can’t solve the problems of our own homeless population. And, I don’t disagree with his concern. The idea of bringing a vast number of homeless children into our community, when our own foster care system is oversubscribed, can and will create an inconvenience for most of us at best.
But I can’t help wondering as I look into the faces of the children who have been on the news, if this is not our opportunity for a modern day feeding of the 5,000. If this is not our opportunity to care for the Divine unaware.
As a people of God, we too have a history of being an alien people in a foreign land. In Genesis, Abraham is often referred to as the Wondering Aramean. It was he and Sarah who were called from the land of their fathers into the land of Cana. It is Joseph, the great- grandson of Abraham who is sold into slavery by his brothers and forced to live in Egypt by his owners only to become the Vice-Roy to Pharoah. And it is all of the Children of Israel, who in the time of famine, are welcomed into the arms of Egypt.
Yes, the faces we see today as part of the immigration crisis, could have been the same faces of Israel when they arrived in Egypt starving and rejected.
I also wonder, as I look into the faces of the families who are crossing the border if one of them might not be the Holy Family itself. Let’s not forget, during the time of Herod, Mary and Joseph had to seek asylum in Egypt in order to protect Jesus from being a victim of Herod’s slaughter of innocence.
According to the 2013 United Nations’ statistics, approximately 40% of the children crossing our borders qualify for Humanitarian Status. This means they are literally fleeing their countries to save their lives. Gang warfare throughout Central America is brutal. Children are being recruited at the age of ten and younger. Those who refuse to join a gang, along with their families, face brutal repercussions.
36% of the children crossing the border already have one parent living in this country either legally or illegally. These children have been sent to the states to find that other parent or family member because the remaining parent, grandparent or family member has either died or can no longer care for them. In talking about this with one parishioner, all she could say was, “I can’t imagine how desperate and hopeless a mother has to be to send her child away to cross our border. “ I can’t imagine how scared and alone these children must feel as they are literally warehoused in make shift camps, separated by age, and literally caged like animals and being forced to hear the vitriol of those who want nothing to do with them.
The needs these children present to any community in which they are housed will be great, and if we approach the problem strictly from an pragmatic standpoint, then those who are protesting their arrival are absolutely correct. We cannot afford to bring them into our midst. But I believe St. Paul has asked us to approach this differently. These past weeks in his letter to the Romans, he has continued to speak of being freed from the law and the limitations of the flesh as the adopted children of God. When we approach any humanitarian issue strictly from the lens of pragmatism, then we allow ourselves to continue being bound by the flesh. However, when we ask what would God want of us, the limitations of the flesh fall away as we open ourselves to the abundance of resources that God has made available and through the use of our own religious imagination, what seems impossible. . .becomes possible.
I don’t know if children will be arriving in Syracuse anytime soon, that is in the hands of the Federal Government and the Sisters of St. Francis. If the way is cleared for these children to come to Syracuse, I would like your permission to write the Mayor on behalf of this congregation to offer our support and our willingness to aid their arrival in any way we can.
I don’t know what their needs will be. What I do know is who we are as a parish. In the eleven years I have been with you, we have proven how truly generous we are. Within this community we are becoming less and less known by our structure and more known through our financial giving and fundraising for others. And so I ask, if these children do come to Syracuse,can we extend ourselves a little further and embrace them with God’s healing embrace?