More than 500 religious leaders and 111 faith-based organizations have sent an open letter urging Congress to reject proposals to expand family incarceration or separation; uphold protections for asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable populations; and cut funding that fuels immoral detention and deportations. Members of Congress who claim to have faith must do more than express concern for children forcibly taken from their parents.

Presbyterian signers of the letter included the Reverend J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly; the Reverend Jimmie Hawkins, director of the denomination’s Office of Public Witness; former General Assembly Moderator the Reverend Fahed Abu-Akel; and nearly forty Presbyterian leaders of congregations, presbyteries, and seminaries.

Today’s signatories note that families fleeing persecution have the right to seek safety without fearing punishment through detention or separation from their children, parents, or other family members. The group calls on Congress to take action to restore compassion and value families by only supporting policies that uphold the God-given dignity and rights of every person, each of whom is made in the image of God.

“Family separation shocks the conscience. In the Christian tradition, family is the fundamental unit in society through which individuals are able to grow and experience the love of God. We urge the administration to abolish family incarceration and not turn to detention as a solution to family separation. It is appalling that the administration is continuously delaying reuniting these families—many of whom are seeking protection from violence. We call attention to the moral dimensions of public policy and recommend reforms that uphold the God-given dignity and rights of every person, each of whom are made in the image of God,” said the Reverend John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service.

“Franciscans, in fact all Christians, are called to love our neighbor as our self and welcome the stranger,” Pope Francis has stated. “The family is the fundamental locus of the covenant between the Church and God’s creation. Families belong together and separating children from their parents is not acting with the biblical message of love. It is hate masquerading as justice and it is immoral,” said Franciscan Action Network Executive Director Patrick Carolan.

“The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), inspired by our Jewish values and Jewish history, support all those seeking better lives in our nation. Not only does the Torah teach us to welcome the stranger, for once we too were strangers, but it was not very long ago that Jews were turned away from our shores. In a moment when the administration seeks to hold families and children in indefinite detention, NCJW continues to support Dreamers, children, asylum seekers, LGBTQ immigrants, and all those for whom our nation should be a beacon of hope,” said CEO Nancy K. Kaufman of the National Council of Jewish Women.

“The ELCA opposed the detention of families policy during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, and we oppose the policy now. Detention centers are not designed to support families. Community-based alternatives to detention, like ones that Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has piloted, are cost-effective ways to ensure that children and parents can await their court case in a dignified setting. … Martin Luther reminds us that good government is part of our daily bread. As Lutherans and as citizens, we can work with elected officials toward humane, just, and compassionate solutions,” said the Reverend Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“The children whose images have broken the hearts of millions of Americans must not be used as bargaining chips to pass harmful legislation to allow family detention, nor should Congress vote for funds to pay for it. Rather than ‘blaming the victims,’ it behooves our nation to do an ‘examination of conscience.’ Decades of failed U.S. foreign policies in the Northern Triangle countries have helped create the very conditions of violence that give people no choice but to flee for their lives,” said Sister Patricia McDermott, RSM, president of Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

“The only solution to this crisis is to rescind the inhuman ‘zero tolerance’ policy. Unfortunately, members of Congress and the Administration are trying instead to overturn existing protections against indefinite detention of children so that authorities can jail whole families and expedite deportations, even for asylum seekers. This raises serious due process concerns. There are proven alternatives to the incarceration of families fleeing violence that don’t permanently traumatize young children or make people suffer unnecessarily,” said David Bernstein, president and CEO of Jerusalem Council for Public Affairs (JCPA).

“Children belong with their parents. The Trump Administration’s draconian ‘zero tolerance’ policy mandated the separation and detention of families violating the sanctity of family. Congress must act now to reunify families and ensure the immoral practice of family separation at the border never happens again. Further, Congress must reject any policy that substitutes family incarceration as a solution to family separation. Both violate the call to love our neighbor,” said Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

“We, as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), have proclaimed ourselves to be a pro-reconciling/anti-racist church, which extends welcome to all people, recognizing that every person is created in the image of God. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to ‘love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law’ (Romans 13:8). When we start with love, we will understand that when laws dehumanize and discriminate, we are faithful in opposing such laws, and we are faithful in using our voice and our vote to call for love. We condemn, therefore, the policy and practice of separating children from families and criminally prosecuting all persons who enter the United States without previous authorization. We denounce actions that degrade our neighbors and treat as criminals those who seek freedom and safety.

“The practice, especially as implemented by the current administration through ‘zero tolerance’ policies, is cruel and does violence to the most vulnerable—families who have fled their homes seeking safety in an unfamiliar land, only to have their children taken away from them. This violence is unnecessarily punitive. The stated intent of using family separation as a deterrent effectively weaponizes children against their parents and causes lasting emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual harm. Jesus had strong words for those who did harm to children, whom he welcomed to himself: ‘If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea,’” (Matthew 18:6, NRSV) said the Reverend Terri Hord Owens, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada.

“The United Church of Christ (UCC) is one of a number of faith communities angered and outraged by this administration’s intentional decision to create immigration policies that tear families apart. UCC congregations across the country will stay the course—by supporting families seeking asylum and advocating for an end to this inhumane and immoral ‘zero’ tolerance policy that is criminalizing mothers and fathers and traumatizing innocent children. Family detention and incarceration is not a solution! Thankfully, U.S. courts have decided that families must be reunited and children cannot be detained. We implore the Trump administration to stop these needless attacks on mothers, fathers, and children fleeing persecution,” said the Reverend John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president, The United Church of Christ.

“We deplore the separation of families at the border as an instrument of U.S. policy, and our hearts cry out for the unnecessary anguish we are putting young children through in an effort to deter border crossings. Separating children from their parents is both inhumane and ineffective, and is at odds with the priority of families within the Christian tradition. Many of those who present themselves at our borders are fleeing violence and seeking asylum in the U.S. We have an obligation under international law to uphold due process for those claiming asylum. The Episcopal Church strongly believes that U.S. policies must provide dignity and respect to all children of God and we urge Congress and the Administration to reverse these harmful policies that separate families and endanger children,” said Rebecca Linder Blachly, M.Div, director of the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations.

The full text of the interfaith letter is available here:

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