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Immigration: What cruelty is next after Nielsen departure?

Immigrant children
Some of the immigrant children that were detained by Border Patrol. |

It will come as no surprise when President Trump continues his anti-immigrant agenda, ignoring well-established U.S. asylum law and putting children and families in harm’s way even after Secretary Nielsen’s abrupt departure. We know that President Trump forced Secretary Nielsen to resign to find someone willing to enforce even more cruelty at the border. The question now is what unchecked harm he will unleash after the purge of the Department of Homeland Security is complete.

He gave us a preview of those plans on Friday when he sent a chilling message to refugees from Central America seeking safety in the United States: “The system is full. We can’t take you anymore... Our country is full... Turn around.” Speaking directly to the camera, his message was both cruel and clear: I do not care what hell you went through. Turn around and go back.

I’ve read these words before. I’m sure you have too. We know the story of a pregnant woman and her husband, looking for a safe place to rest, escaping from cruelty in their homeland, being told “there’s no room for you.”

The story of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus is the founding story of my Christian faith, and it powerfully demonstrates that there is always room for the outcast and the migrant. As Americans and as people of faith, we know that vulnerable families knocking on our door and seeking protection are not a border security crisis — their story and how we respond is a test of our humanity.

Trump is saying “go back” to the mothers, fathers, and children walking north to seek protection through the legal process known as asylum. He’s saying “go back” to the men, women, and children his administration is incarcerating in jails and cages and stowing away like trash under a bridge. The families he has separated who are still trying to find each other; the children who have died while in U.S. custody; these are not examples of hapless neglect. They are examples of deliberate cruelty.

The good news is that a lot of people in the United States today see Trump’s attempt to turn his back on Central American refugees for what it is: an immoral act that flies in the face of basic human decency. People of conscience across our country have demonstrated faithful witness to the dignity of families separated by Trump’s cruel attacks on asylum seekers, in opposition to the inhumanity of his ‘zero tolerance’ policies.

All along the border, faith communities across traditions are pitching in to accompany asylum seekers, in order to ensure they have adequate shelter, food, clothing, phone services and bus tickets to connect with family members. Church World Service has been supporting eight shelters along the border. One shelter, the Inn Project, was created by the United Methodist Church in Tucson, Arizona and named after the story of Mary and Joseph being told there was no room in the inn. It now has more than 250 volunteers.

Others groups like the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, say they are responding with ‘hope, grit and grace.’

Trump’s heartless words - “there is no room for you” - come almost exactly one year after his administration began separating children from their parents. Despite widespread outcry, families are still separated and these policies are in place still today. These words and policies run counter to Biblical call to love your neighbor, welcome the stranger, and value the dignity of every family. People of faith and conscience recognize the parallels. A pregnant Mary and a downtrodden Joseph are walking toward our border right now. Will we allow President Trump to turn them away?

Originally posted at

The Rev. John L. McCullough is president and CEO of Church World Service.

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