Opinion by Sister Norma Pimentel, The Washington Post
Dear Mr. President:
I write today to appeal to your sense of morality, human dignity and as a fellow Catholic. While the Supreme Court has blocked your efforts to rescind the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, while litigation against it proceeds through the court system, I urge you to act. These legal complications, and our backlogged immigration courts system, cannot become an excuse to strand thousands of people in dire conditions, especially when other options are available.
I know from firsthand experience just how desperate the situation is. MPP was implemented in my community in early 2019. Its effect was to force thousands of people into a makeshift “tent city” along the Mexican side of the Rio Grande river as they awaited rulings on whether they would be granted asylum.
I would visit the camp almost every single day. It was a blessing that hundreds of compassionate Americans crossed the border between Brownsville, Tex., and Matamoros, Mexico, several times a day to bring tents, food, clothing, and to tend to these families’ medical needs and legal issues. While supported by the good nature and assistance that staff and others provided, I often worried about how the women, men and children at the camp could survive in such conditions. How could they stand the scorching heat of our region’s hot sun or the occasional torrential downpours that turned their encampment into a mud pit?
The lack of care for humanity and the sounds of human misery accompanied me daily as I moved through the camp. I know that reports of these conditions have reached your ears, too: I met your wife, Jill Biden, here in 2019 as she donned rubber boots to wade through the mud and see for herself the misery in which asylum seekers, including many women and children, lived for as long as two years.
So, I rejoiced when you declared an end to this immoral policy on your first days in office, and despaired when the Supreme Court required your administration to implement it once again.
I pray for the Supreme Court justices as I do for all leaders. But in my heart, I know that surely, we can do better than return to the conditions and suffering I witnessed in 2019.
We must not make children live for months in rain-logged tents. We cannot abandon them to communities where their mothers are afraid to let them use the bathroom at night for fear they might encounter a gang member or be assaulted. In the name of God and in the spirit of decency that has been a hallmark of Americans for generations, I beseech you: If this policy must continue, let us find a way to end the worst cruelties that have defined it thus far.
If your intent is to negotiate with Mexico over how to house asylum applicants while their claims are being processed, proper shelter and care for these families must be at the heart of those conversations. One option would be to request that the U.S. Agency for International Development be allowed to provide food, housing and medical assistance to the families waiting in Mexico. Another would be to grant humanitarian parole to the people currently in these camps, which would allow them to pursue their immigration claims in more stable conditions within the United States without acting as a permanent loophole in the immigration process.
When the Matamoros encampment disappeared near the beginning of your administration, a new encampment sprang up in nearby Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Tex. Recently we estimated that there are close to 5,000 migrants in Reynosa. And it’s not only these temporary towns that have their perils. Mexican border cities are wracked by drug cartel-related violence so dangerous that State Department employees are prohibited from traveling to them. It is immoral and abhorrent to deter people who are legally and peacefully seeking safety in the United States by deliberately exposing them to the very perils that they are hoping to escape.
If proper accommodations cannot be negotiated with Mexico, I urge you to push for an alternative. We cannot allow a lack of creativity and fortitude to become an excuse to abandon the principle of compassion.
I invite you to come and see for yourself, as your wife did in 2019, what is happening on the border. There are many layers to the immigration realities behind the strident political rhetoric that dominates and obscures the issue today. But we must find ways to counter what Pope Francis calls a “globalization of indifference.”
Mr. President, please demonstrate to the world that the words of Jesus — whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me — are the foundation of not only our faith, but of the moral structure of our country.
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