Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
Is it a crime for people of color to seek life? I was nine years old in 1991 when my mother and I crossed the border into the U.S., fleeing violence in El Salvador from a war funded by the United States. Had we asked for asylum at the border, we would have been returned like the thousands of other Central Americans that the U.S. government was sending back to possible death. I can write this letter now because we crossed the line and lie of criminality like so many who continue to cross it today.
Is it a crime to provide border crossers with humanitarian aid? In Southern Arizona, volunteers with organizations like No More Deaths/No Más Muertes and Samaritans are regularly harassed and targeted by Border Patrol for providing border crossers with life-saving water, food, and medical assistance in the desert. They exercise a true and holy humanity at the risk of arrest and incarceration.
“Decriminalizing migration and providing aid and protection to save lives are essential steps in healing the social and moral wounds of this nation.”
Is it criminal to protect persecuted communities from ICE? Across the country ICE terrorizes communities of color, forcibly separating families. Houses of worship, out of their faith convictions, provide sanctuary for days or years to persons threatened with deportation. They uphold the fundamental principle that persons who fear returning to their place of origin must be afforded some means of protection.
As you begin the holy work of healing the festering wounds of this nation and—in the words of President Biden’s inaugural address—responding to the “cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making,” let us not forget that legislation surrounding migration has served and continues to serve as a tool of racism and the myth of white supremacy. Decriminalizing migration and providing aid and protection to save lives are essential steps in healing the social and moral wounds of this nation. To use the words of the prophet Isaiah, which are as relevant now for this country as they were in his time: “Loose the bonds of injustice…Undo the thongs of the yoke…Let the oppressed go free…Break every yoke…Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly” (Isaiah 58:6,8).
Leo Guardado, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology