In God’s economy of creation, we humans share much of the same emotions and creative instincts with the animal world. For instance, you and I think it is predictable and entirely within the evolutionary DNA of birds and aquatic animals like whales and certain species of fish to migrate, to find places that promise life and generativity when seasons change or predators become increasingly threatening. We watch flocks of birds fly within their community and strategically arrange their patterns of flight when fall nears winter. We are immediately enthralled with the pulse and hum of life electrically charging air and sea as these animals move to safety.
Following our animal instincts, you and I migrate as well. Sometimes we migrate to where we think there are better schools for our children or safer places for them to play. We migrate for jobs. We migrate to live in ‘nice’ communities, or to be near family. We, too, migrate for safety. We do not usually migrate in large numbers at one time, but we do amass the numbers and we become part of newer communities which will suit our dreams and which are affordable. We do not think we have migrated because we usually remain in the same country, speak the same language. We would never call ourselves immigrants!
Other humans migrate as well. They want safety, better educations, freedom from lawlessness, the right seek good work and health care. Just like us. They seek a way out of poverty, fear, discrimination. These people have to travel farther than we do. They climb on jerry-built rafts to take on the sea in the middle of the night so they aren’t discovered. They pay ruthless ‘coyotes’ their life savings to escort them to freedom over walls, through deserts, over mountains, all in a foreign country. They are very fortunate if they survive these journeys.
We may not know the difference in terms. Refugees are persons who have fled their own country and have a right to international protection. Asylum– seekers have left their country seeking protection from persecution and human rights violations but are not recognized as refugees and await decisions on their asylum claims. Migrants leave their country to work, study, or join family to escape intolerable conditions in their homeland. Migrants should never be detained or forced to return to their countries without a legitimate reason.
Do any of your ancestors fit any of these categories? Mine do. And I suspect if you dig deeply enough you will find the same. Grandparents, Great Grandparents sweating in steerage, scavenging for food, wandering around an American harbor looking for a family member.
Why do so many Americans resist the reality of today’s influx of persons clawing, crying, reaching for the rope of freedom. Why can we not throw that rope to them and hug them as they come ashore? All nations and even continents, have experienced massive movements over millennia, yes, millennia. This is nothing new. Historically it swells with political turmoil, and as you know, history tells the truth.
It seems we might be moving to a nationalist ideology in America (and perhaps other Western countries as well) as we address the complicated challenge of the many persons fleeing to our shores and borders. We need to erase that ideology completely. Whole continents have been re-peopled, if you will, with non-indigenous people replacing the indigenous ensconced there. America is a prime example. Remember, everyone migrates for safety. Everyone.
I am so proud that communities of women religious in the Roman Catholic tradition, all over the world are all responding to this challenge of serving those arriving at borders or safe harbors begging for acceptance. Just a few examples: The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati maintain two clinics at the Texas border to assist women and children as migrants. In addition they have used their COVID resources to purchase a home for the newly-relocated refugees in Cincinnati. Other communities send volunteers to the border to assist wherever possible. Some communities have initiated creative programs of various types, some Ursulines of Cleveland have created a Ninety-First Day outreach to provide services to assist Afghan refugees settling in the area. The initiative is called Ninety-First Day because that is the day following the expiration of refugee aid from the Government. The Adrian Dominican Sisters have provided a sister who is an immigration attorney to provide assistance to all migrants and refugees. Many other communities are responding in similar ways.
If you need to do something in this crisis, I suggest you contact your local faith community, no matter what denomination it is, and see if you can help. Even in a small way help gets magnified. Are there Afghan refugees in your community? They need your help.
Perhaps you could reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Christian Scriptures which demonstrate God’s extraordinary affection for the ‘alien.’ Maybe you could reflect on Leviticus 19:34 or the Book of Deuteronomy 27:19. In the Christian Scriptures you will gain much from reading Jesus’ words, “You are accursed for I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” Matthew 25:41-43.
Pray for an open mind and for the courage to do what you can to welcome the stranger. Put aside partisan politics, and look into the eyes of the stranger.Definitions of refugees, migrants, and asylum-seekers came from Amnesty International.