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GUEST COLUMNIST | Our moral obligation

Deacon Dennis Stovall
We are called as Catholics to be followers of Jesus before anything else. Our identity in Christ should precede every other identity. In John’s Gospel, our Lord tells us, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Nowhere is this responsibility currently greater than with regard to our country’s immigration policy.

Our immigration system is broken and the solutions are complex. However, to demonize and reject entire classes of people is not the answer. It’s dehumanizing and, more importantly, antithetical to Catholic moral teaching.

Yes, there are “bad actors” trying to enter our country illegally. However, the vast majority of individuals affected by current policy are fleeing horrific conditions in an effort to find a better life for themselves and their families. I know this because on 11 medical/dental mission trips to Honduras and Colombia, I have treated many patients just like those now seeking asylum at our southern border.

I have seen the vacant stares of little girls who have been sexually abused at ages as young as 5. I know the little boys who live in constant fear of being the next one in their village to be “beaten in” to the local gang. I know the mothers trying to protect their children from domestic violence of the worst kind. The litany is seemingly endless. They are all God’s children, trying to improve their human condition just as, I believe, you or I would if faced with the same conditions.

We are all familiar with the horrors of families being separated. However, in recent months our government has, in some ways, made things worse instead of better for those seeking asylum. As of July 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed Border Patrol officers to immediately reject any claim based on fear of gang or domestic violence. In addition, the new guidelines tell officers they should consider whether an immigrant crossed the border illegally and weigh that against their claim, potentially rejecting even what are now considered to be the very narrow spectrum of so-called “legitimate” fears of persecution, if the immigrant crossed illegally.

As a society, when we forget that the role of government should be about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us. Our pope, cardinals, archbishops and bishops have spoken eloquently about the evils and immorality of refusing legitimate asylum seekers at our country’s doorstep, of indiscriminately separating children from their parents, of not reuniting families in a timely fashion. The time has come for all faithful Catholics, in both words and actions, to live the call of the Gospels and denounce our government’s current course of action.

Deacon Dennis Stovall is a permanent deacon at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Soulard.

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