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This is America: The view from McAllen, TX


This child, along with many others, was the first I noticed as I entered the Humanitarian Respite Center, a Catholic Charities-run facility in McAllen, Texas, led by Sister Norma Pimentel and minimal staff. The facility is about the size of my church's fellowship hall. Over a period of four years, this small non-profit has serviced over 100,000 persons. In the federal courthouse only steps away, those now waiting at the Respite Center had passed the first step on the way to gaining asylum by articulating "a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (1951 Refugee Convention)." The center is where they come after the court has heard their case. Shackled with ankle monitors, the sojourners are welcomed at the center.

I was at the Center representing the National Council of Churches as part of a delegation of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders. We came to support the work of the Humanitarian Respite Center and to bear witness with our sisters and brothers who were persecuted: first by acts of hostility in their country of origin, and again by the "zero tolerance" immigration policy that was initiated by the United States government.

National Council of Churches is one of the ecumenical partners supported by the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund apportionment which enables United Methodists to share a presence and a voice in the activities of several national and worldwide ecumenical organizations.

An enthusiastic little boy played with blocks and toy cars, laughing with a full-throttled giggle, the kind of laugh that is contagious. He was four years old and had made a long, arduous journey from Honduras.

Our delegation met with Sister Norma and toured the facility, where we saw rooms filled to overflowing with baby formula, disposable diapers, food, toiletries, and clothing. This center is a haven where weary travelers are met with open arms and a spirit of love and hospitality. They can shower, sleep, eat and obtain fresh clothes after traveling through dangerous roads and deserts for weeks or even months.

The President of the United States has referred to those seeking asylum as "criminals," as people "infesting" or "invading" our country, hateful words more often used to reference rodents or bugs.

As the immoral, cruel and human tragedy of this administration's policies unfolded, Americans once again seemed shocked. How many times have all the pundits and politicians seemed appalled? They pound their fists and issue statements, saying, "This is not who we are; this is not American!"

But this is America. This is the same America that took the children of enslaved African Americans and sold them, took First American children and placed them in boarding schools and stripped them of their native language and culture, placed Japanese American children in cages during World War II and is now taking brown babies and children from South America and Central America from their parents.  Diminishing the humanity and dignity of people of color is very American, and children are not exempt from these cruel acts of racism. This is America! This is us!

This America is a soul-sick America. The psychological and emotional scars are already permanently etched into the spirit of these children and their parents and even the staffers who have had to "follow the directions" of their superiors. Racism is a sin against God. All people are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Until the United States acknowledges that it is sick and awakens to the impact that racism and xenophobia have on shaping our policies and practices, we will slip further into the abyss of hatred with these kinds of acts.
Again we will gasp, shake our fists, make statements and express prayers and concerns and unfortunately, again we will say, "This is not who we are! This is not America!" For now, it IS who we are. But it is not who we have to be.  We can do better. We must do better.

Aundreia Alexander, NCC website

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund enables United Methodists to share a presence and a voice in the activities of several national and worldwide ecumenical organizations. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

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