ON JUNE 21, the longest day of the year, the Episcopal Church in the United States held a prayer vigil for family unity from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in its chapel on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, to call attention to the Trump administration’s policy of separating the children of migrant families. The day was chosen, the Episcopal News Service said on its website, “in recognition of the fact that any day children are separated from their parents is too long”.
Although the President made a U-turn hours before the vigil — after videos showing children held in “tender-age facilities” crying for their parents provoked outrage — the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said that concerns about the detention of families continued.
In a video message urging people to log on to the prayer vigil, which was screened live on Facebook, he said: “The ways that we implement our immigration concerns, the ways that we secure our borders, need not be separated from our compassion and our human decency.”
In an article in The Guardian, on Saturday, Bishop Curry said that “Christians have recoiled against the notion that ripping children from their parents . . . in any way comports with the teachings of Jesus Christ.” He described the zero-tolerance policy, intended to deter people fleeing violence in Central America from seeking refuge in the US, as a “moment of national shame”.
Jim McGovern, a Democrat representative and Roman Catholic, told those at the prayer vigil on Capitol Hill: “This [family separation] can’t be the face of who we are; so I appreciate you being here, I appreciate your prayers, I appreciate your activism. I’ve always felt that faith is more than just ritual: it’s action, and you all have powerful voices, and this is a time to use them for the sake of these kids, for the sake of these parents, and for the sake of this country.”
He said that phones were “ringing off the hook” at congressional offices as Americans phoned their representatives in Congress to complain about the policy.
The Bishop of New York, the Rt Revd Andrew Dietsche, described it as “systematic child abuse”, and said that it was the “cruellest and least defensible policy decision by an American president and administration in our memory”. Other US bishops issued similar statements condemning the policy.
The US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, defended the policy earlier this month with a quote from Romans 13. In a speech addressed to “church friends”, he said: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
More than 600 members of the United Methodist Church — of which Mr Sessions is a member — responded by filing a formal complaint, alleging that the policy violates church rules and may constitute child abuse.
Seventeen US states are also now suing the Republican administration over the policy as they say it is “contrary to the constitution”.
The executive order signed by the President last week was presented as an end to the separation of children and parents at the US borders, but it has led to confusion about what should happen to the more than 2000 children already separated from their parents and held in separate facilities.
The US Health Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement confirmed on Tuesday that 2047 migrant children were currently still in the care of the agency. The children are being held in holding cells, converted warehouses, desert tents, or have been put into foster care.
The acting Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, said that the state’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not have enough detention space to accommodate families as outlined under the President’s executive order, and would stop referring cases involving families for prosecution.