For people in faith communities, the cruel and abusive treatment of immigrant families and their children at the southern border has been a disgraceful national tragedy and a dark stain upon America’s character. To seek remedy, we can pray and we can seek to persuade public officials to find enlightenment. Distance, however, limits the ability of most Pennsylvanians to engage in direct involvement through physical presence. The pandemic compounds the difficulty.
Fewer people realize there are similar disturbing situations here in Pennsylvania. Though lesser in scale, this in no way diminishes the human costs. The further shame is this takes place not all that far from welcoming communities such as Lancaster, which is a shining example of how to take in and resettle individuals and families fleeing violence, repression, and grinding poverty in dozens of nations.
A case in point for the trouble is the Berks Detention Center. Families have been held there throughout the pandemic, in deplorable conditions that elevated the risk of contracting coronavirus. Having been denied the opportunity to seek asylum, they are now facing imminent deportation, if the presumably departing administration has its way. Sad to countenance this is how America intends to celebrate a season of thanksgiving and the light and joy of religious celebration.
We are grateful to the concerned local groups who have been continually advocating for the interests of these detainees. Protests have conveyed the message that, for people of faith who believe in and demonstrate kindness and dignity, Immigrant Lives Matter Too.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition recently posted recommendations for constructive activism on behalf of those improperly detained and unfairly threatened with deportation. Let our collective voices be heard. Let our leaders rediscover the righteous road to providing sanctuary and safe haven to those who made a desperate choice to build new lives in our land of hope and possibility.
The power of prayer is central to our lives. The power of faith in action is also compelling. An outgoing administration fond of using the Bible as a political prop has no intention of abiding by the lessons of humanity, humility, tolerance, and forgiveness found on every page. This mission of taking in the strangers is worthy of each of us, no matter our politics or our worship preferences.
David Atkinson, a member of our synod’s AMMPARO task force, did policy and communications work in the Pennsylvania Senate for thirty-five years and is a long-time member of Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Susquehanna Township. He writes commentary and scripts for history documentaries for the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy. He also coauthored a political memoir of state Senator Robert C. Jubelirer titled The Senate Will Come To Order; But The Politics May Be Messy and was an interviewer for an oral history of The Reverend Doctor Ken Senft titled: A Life Of Faith. Atkinson also served for thirteen years on the Pennsylvania Public Television Network Commission.