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Presbyterian leaders say policy change on separating immigrant families is not enough

Group calls for complete reversal on immigration policy

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Attendees of the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) meeting in St. Louis this week gather to protest immigrant child detention. (Photo by Danny Bolin)

ST. LOUIS — More than 100 Presbyterians gathered this week in St. Louis to make their voices heard regarding the U.S. policy on immigration. Since the White House began its crackdown on immigrants in this country, the church has been vocal in its opposition. But the separation of parents from their children at the borders has made those voices even louder.

This week President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending the separation policy. But Presbyterian advocates say it’s not enough.

“This is a band-aid over a gaping wound. We do not accept the reunification of families if it means they will be together in detention for an indefinite amount of time,” said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the church’s Office of Public Witness. “The President is trying to evade public pressure by saying he has ended family separation, when he is expanding family detention and has kept the zero-tolerance policy firmly in place. We, as Presbyterians, will not fall for it. We must provide welcome to those fleeing violence, not put them in jail with their families.”

Three United Nations agencies have spoken out on the separation issue.

“The secretary general, UNICEF and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have all lifted their voices against the inhumane U.S. policy of separating migrant children from their parents,” said Ryan Smith, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations. “It is not a solution for the U.S. government to simply move from separating children from parents to caging them together. We must come up with a just resolution to the immigration crisis.”

Susan Krehbiel, associate for refugees and asylum with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, is glad to see the shift in policy, but believes it won’t impact the problem.

“Sadly, the devil is always in the details. His offer to keep families together is being coupled with the promise to increase family detention centers,” she said. “For the children, at least, they won’t have the horror of being separated, but we already know that even being detained with parents is traumatic for the children and the courts have ruled on that.”

Krehbiel says there is still a larger effort to criminalize people’s rights to seek asylum and refuge.

Smith, Hawkins and Krehbiel say they will continue moving forward in their advocacy efforts and encourage churches to do the same, saying it is still unclear when families currently separated will be reunited.

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