Opinion: Vulnerable migrants coming to this country deserve better

Seeking asylum in the United States is following the legal path

Groups of migrants wait outside the Migrant Resource Center to receive food from the San Antonio Catholic Charities on September 19 in San Antonio, Texas. 

Groups of migrants wait outside the Migrant Resource Center to receive food from the San Antonio Catholic Charities on September 19 in San Antonio, Texas. 

Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

Since the spring, more than 10,000 vulnerable migrants seeking legal asylum in the United States have been transported from one state in our country to another, from one city in our country to another.  In a highly publicized recent incident, 50 migrants lured by the promise of jobs and legal papers were shipped to Martha’s Vineyard. When they arrived, they would soon learn that everything that was promised was a lie. One heartening aspect in this unfolding crisis is the welcoming response offered by many of the islanders. 
 
The failure of our nation to live up to one of its historic creeds – “Give me your tired, your poor” – tears at the very fabric of our society, and in regard to my profession, the heart of the Gospels. Although this practice of transporting vulnerable human beings is not new, clergy of African and Haitian descent have been raising alarms for months with little to no media coverage.

Seeking asylum is legal! Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980. Asylum seekers must be in the U.S. or at a port of entry to request the opportunity to apply for asylum. There is a ton of misinformation circulating that claims “they just need to do it the right way.” 
 
Two years ago, I met Luis, a Venezuelan migrant who crossed the border, was charged with felony illegal entry, and deported via Operation Streamline, all within 24 hours of crossing the border. Luis claimed asylum and was sent to Nogales, Mexico, to wait and meet with an asylum lawyer. While in Nogales, Luis and I had a conversation. He told me how he was a surgeon in Venezuela, and when he protested the corrupt government, the state police identified him and broke his hands and fingers. They told him they would return to kill him if he did not stop. After this, Luis cashed in his savings and hired a “coyote” to get him to the U.S. to claim asylum.

After telling me about the trauma of his journey, this malnourished human whose hands were wrapped in dirty bandages apologized to me for crossing the border. This moment will always stick with me. We both began to weep and I told him that it was not him who needed to apologize, it was us who fell into the sin of complacency and allowed this dehumanization to happen.

These migrants are human and made in the image of our divine creator, not these dehumanized boogeymen that propaganda suggests. In my ordination vows for the United Church of Christ I vowed that with Jesus as my example, I would be zealous in speaking up for the outcast, the marginalized and the stranger.  
 
Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, with whom the United Church of Christ works, said last week, “Those fleeing their homes have already experienced trauma, desperation, and profound loss prior to arriving in the United States. No asylum seeker should be subjected to deceptive or forced transportation or abandoned without support. Our leaders have moral and legal obligations to welcome and protect those who are seeking asylum in the United States.” 
 
All of us must work together on the issues of immigration to make sure no more of our Creator’s children are marginalized and cast out. We all must respond with love and understanding.
 
The Rev. Matthew Hogue-Smith is the associate pastor for outreach, justice and diversity at First Church of Christ in Glastonbury. He writes this letter as an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ.