They were given 24 hours to leave, or they would be killed. Tragically, they had to abandon their 13-year-old son who had been brainwashed and integrated into the gang. That’s the story I couldn’t help but think of as I celebrated my own dad this Father’s Day.
I recently met this young family when I was at a major border crossing point from Central America into Mexico, and for many, eventually into the United States. The father shared that he and his wife had fled Honduras with their six-year-old child just days after the father was physically beaten and the family was threatened by gang members when he tried to get his teenage son back.
Meeting this young couple really drove home what a father’s resilience and sacrificial love for family looks like, but now these families are under attack.
Only a month before Father’s Day, the U.S. government announced a new policy to criminalize fathers and mothers trying to save their families. Attorney General Jeff Sessions presented a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who crosses the U.S. border illegally. He made it clear that everyone who crosses, including asylum seekers with children, will now be criminally prosecuted for the misdemeanor of illegal entry. Parents will be put into criminal custody and their children will be treated as “unaccompanied minors,” as if they had crossed the border alone, without their parents, and transferred to the custody of a different federal department from their parents. No matter how old they are, no matter if they are sick, or disabled, children are being forcibly separated from their parents without any idea of when they will be reunited.
The purpose of all this policy is deterrence, but for a family facing death threats or extreme poverty, that doesn’t prove effective; beyond that, it’s immoral. But this policy isn’t just intended to deter illegal immigration; it’s also proactively preventing people from legally entering the country. There are reports of individuals legally seeking asylum at a port of entry being turned away, contrary to international law. Individuals fleeing persecution have a right to seek asylum in the U.S., both at port of entries and once they’ve crossed the border, even without a visa. Instead they are now being criminalized and neglected. We hear the stories of dozens of asylum seekers waiting on bridges in between countries for days, in need of emergency supplies, just to be turned away and told they cannot enter.
The administration reinforced its lack of compassion toward those fleeing life-threatening persecution when Sessions announced a plan to substantially decrease protections for women and children fleeing gang violence and domestic violence. To calm the concerns of his “church friends,” in a recent speech he cited the Bible (Romans 13) as justification for enforcing the law, but the reality is that separating children from parents isn’t the law — it’s a new policy.
The United Nations human rights office has called for an end to the Trump Administration’s practice that separates children and parents, saying that using immigration detention and family separation “as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles.” The faith community has also rightfully stood up saying separating vulnerable families seeking safety is counter to the good news of the gospel and our call to welcome.
While I was listening to the father recount their story, with their little son clinging to his mother’s leg, I couldn’t help but think of another family of three escaping life-threatening violence: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Like the Holy Family, this family had no choice but to flee, and I wonder if Jesus would be denied entry into the U.S. today.
As people of faith, we have a moral imperative to urge the Trump administration to end the separation of families and ensure that those who are seeking asylum receive due process and respect. I do not know if this young Honduran family crossed the U.S. border or if now the father and his six-year-old child are separated. But here’s what I do know: this father was saving his son’s life, just like any other father would do in that situation, including my own. This father was forced to make this choiceless choice to leave his country, and the United States should not prosecute him or separate him from the only son he has left.