Panelists examine ‘human costs, moral implications’ of migration crisis

By Mark Zimmermann | Catholic News Service
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

WASHINGTON — Facing the challenge of the migration crisis will require voices and actions taken up in solidarity with migrants across the globe, said a speaker at a Sept. 11 dialogue on immigration at Georgetown University.

According to statistics reported by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, by the end of 2018, “70.8 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations.”

“These are unprecedented numbers, the largest in human history,” said Maura Policelli, executive director of the Washington office of the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs.

She opened the dialogue on “The U.S. Response to the Global Migration Crisis: Human Costs, Moral Implications and Policy Choices.” It was hosted by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and Notre Dame’s Keough School.

In convening the dialogue, held on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, John Carr, director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, recalled the horrific scene of the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsing that day but also the recent, equally unforgettable scene highlighting the current immigration crisis — the image of a father and young daughter drowned together in the Rio Grande.

The Catholic response to this crisis, Carr said, is guided by the biblical principles of welcoming the stranger and upholding the dignity of immigrants and refugees as children of God.

The four panelists were Denis McDonough, who served as White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama; Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida and former member of the U.S. House; Aryah Somers Landsberger, a researcher on migration issues and advocate for immigrants and refugees; and Mizraim Belman Guerrero, a DACA recipient and a politics major at Georgetown.

Guerrero, who is in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and is a member of the class of 2020, told how his family left their small town in Mexico when he was a young boy, seeking work and educational opportunities in the United States.

When his grandmother died in Mexico, Guerrero said, their family could not return for her funeral, out of fear that they would not be allowed back in the United States.

“We often don’t think about the real human cost of these situations,” said Guerrero, who added he is inspired by the example of hard work and resiliency of his parents and other immigrants. As a student, he has been involved in immigration advocacy groups.

McDonough, now an executive fellow of the Keough School’s Global Policy Initiative at Notre Dame, has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the border.

“For us, we know that the cruelty we’ve seen at the border does not deter people from traveling here. ... people want something better for their kids,” McDonough said.

Seeing the human face of those impacted by immigration policies is vital, said panelist Landsberger. A native of Mexico, she co-wrote the UNHCR’s “Children on the Run” report examining the root causes of migration of unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico to the United States.

The biblical mandate in her own Jewish tradition and in the Christian tradition to “welcome the stranger” can be difficult, she said, noting how throughout its history, the United States has enacted restrictive measures out of fear of immigrants, a narrative that seems to be repeating itself.

It will take time to return to civility, she said.

That point was echoed by Curbelo, who said: “The first thing we have to do is try to understand one another, especially in context of the immigration debate.”

As a congressman, he spent time with a family in the country illegally to understand what their life was like,” he said.

But Curbelo added that Americans who are fearful of immigrants or insecure about them need to be heard, too. “Their concerns need to be addressed,” he said.



  • refugees
  • migration

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