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Faith communities mobilize in support of migrants on US-Mexico border: “There are no gang members or terrorists in the migrants caravan”

Past Thursday about 200 people - Jews, Muslims and Christians – undertook a joint pilgrimage to the Tornillo detention camp, near the city of El Paso, Texas, where over 1000 unaccompanied minors are still detained. The delegation was headed by several rabbis and other religious leaders who protest the Trump administration policies on the militarization of migrant reception and their detention

(from New York) Initiatives and expressions of solidarity towards migrants, especially in US-Mexico border zones, where the major detention centres are located and where US communities are preparing to receive the new caravan of refugees from Central America, are rapidly growing. In the meantime, past Thursday a group of 200 Jews, Muslims and Christians undertook a pilgrimage to the gates of the migrant detention centre in Tornillo, near the city of El Paso, Texas, where over 1000 unaccompanied migrants are still detained. The delegation was headed by several rabbis and other religious leaders who contest the militarization of migrant reception and the detention of migrants enforced by Trump’s administration.

Rabbi Josh Whinston from Ann Arbor, Michigan, one of the organizers of the “sacred journey”, said in a statement to Newsweek that the “outrageous practice” of detention of immigrant teens must end. “We, as people of faith, stand for the reunification of children with parents or guardians regardless of immigration status . the Rabbi declared – We cannot keep them mired in desperate poverty or locked in prison camps.

They are fleeing from violence, they are fleeing from persecution, they are fleeing to save their lives.”

The pilgrimage is also an action of memory for Jews, who see similarities between these migrants and their forefathers who fled the Egyptian pharaoh’s rule in search of a better life. “It’s our responsibility as religious people, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, to do what we can to help these asylum-seekers, rather than treating them as criminals”, Whinston concluded.

The inter-religious pilgrimage was not the only initiative that mobilized United States citizens. A few days ago approximately 3 thousand Catholics and members of other faith communities signed a solidarity commitment in support of all asylum-seekers in the United States, pledging to be good neighbours, “to build a community where everyone is welcome.” Several groups figure among the signatories, such as Franciscan Action Network, Colomban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Faith in Public Life and the  Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“There has been a great deal of political rhetoric on the migrant caravan, and we need to separate facts from fiction – the Franciscans said -.
The members of the caravan are not gang members and they are not terrorists: many have family members who are US citizens. These people simply want to live with their families without fear, and they have every right to seek asylum to feel safe.” The director of one of the programs of the Franciscan network, Sister Maria Orlandini, took part in the delegation of faith communities leaders who travelled to Honduras to observe the problems afflicting those fleeing the Country and ascertained the gravity of the situation, worsened by the US decision to “terminate Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from the region. The policy of deportation and zero-tolerance has done nothing but aggravate the situation.”
Franciscans firmly support “our sisters and brothers in need” and condemn “the harmful, threatening and divisive policies and rhetoric.” Faith in Public Life, an organization of over 50 thousand representatives of churches and faiths, has launched a petition whose signatories pledge “to speak the truth about our human family fleeing danger and reject the dishonest and xenophobic narrative; to physically accompany those who are seeking safety in the United States or to support the people in the community and at the border who are accompanying asylum seekers; to take action and hold elected leaders accountable for dehumanizing those seeking protection from persecution and violence and to advocate the inclusion of families and individuals in the community.”

The solidarity initiative was launched in the same days when a judge in the District Court of San Francisco temporarily barred the enforcement of a Trump administration policy that will slow down the identification process of migrants, thereby encouraging refoulement and deportations for 90 days.

Also bishop Joe Vasquez, President of the Commission on Migrants, issued a statement on behalf of the Bishops Conference along with Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Relief Services.

“This action is deeply concerning”, the bishop declared, pointing out that the provision will restrict and slow access to protection for hundreds of children and families fleeing violence in Central America: “Leaving them in unsafe conditions in Mexico or in indefinite detention situations at the U.S./Mexico border.” Mons. Vasquez reiterated that the right to seek asylum “is codified in our laws and in our values. Thus we urge the Administration to seek other solutions that will strengthen the integrity of the existing immigration system, while assuring access to protection for vulnerable children and families.” The document equally underlines that “The Catholic Church will continue to serve, accompany and assist all those who flee persecution, regardless of where they seek such protection and where they are from.”

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