WITNESS FOR JUSTICE #1134 Asylum is a Human Right

Noel Andersen

On December 24th, while many of us were focused on our Christmas Eve services, dozens of migrants seeking asylum showed up at Vice President Kamala Harris’s door in Washington, DC in the middle of the cold night. They had been sent by Texas Governor Gregg Abbott. While we celebrated the Christmas story of a refugee family finding shelter in a stable for the birth of baby Jesus, migrants along their journey were used as political pawns.

As we prepare to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy, and as we reflect on Governor Gregg Abbot’s actions, which have been joined by Governor DeSantis of Florida, we also remember the history of “Reverse Freedom Rides.” This entailed segregationists busing African Americans from the South to the doorsteps of their political targets in Northern cities with false promises of housing and jobs. It is abundantly clear that the current politics at the Southern border are intricately tied to this country’s history of racism.

Dr. King’s prophetic words ring as true today as they did in the era he lived through. Although there is clear progress in our laws and infrastructure to combat discrimination, the ongoing struggle for justice continues. The quest for basic human rights is still a revolutionary venture: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” These words came from King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway in 1964. The ability to flee persecution and seek asylum has been a critical component to human rights infrastructure, which has been rapidly eviscerated, first by the Trump administration, and now by President Biden.

As thousands of UCC congregations continue to advocate for policies that welcome immigrants, oftentimes inviting asylum seekers into their congregations and homes, this administration continues to take plays from the Trump era of anti-asylum policies. New policies that are currently being rolled out include the expansion of expedited removal for those who arrive at ports of entry along the border and a five-year reentry ban on migrants whose claim for protection is denied. Sponsorship and travel requirements for humanitarian parole of Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans will leave vulnerable populations without a path to safety, while those with financial means will have an advantage. As President Biden reflects on his trip to the US-Mexico border, we pray that he, as a Christian, remembers the Christmas story of a refugee family seeking safety. Instead of denying people their right to claim asylum, which violates the US Refugee Act, we call on this administration to create a robust, humane reception system with adequate funding to shelter and provide the case management that asylum seekers so desperately need. As people of faith, let us continue to work towards Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community, where all are truly welcomed and treated with dignity, equity, and justice.

Reverend Noel Andersen is the Coordinator for the Immigration National Collaborative on Immigration for the United Church of Christ.

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