Robert Azzi: On Father’s Day ask: Where are the children?

  • Iker Velasquez, who came from Honduras with his parents, holds a U.S. flag on Capitol Hill in Washington in this May 18, 2016, file photo. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 6/17/2018 12:10:38 AM

In Genesis we are told that Abraham saw three men standing near him and, unaware they were angels, ran from his tent to greet them, saying: “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought . . . rest yourselves under the tree . . . Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves.”

Throughout our history we’re constantly reminded that such generosity of spirit lies at our core, making radical hospitality a virtue that defines us, where “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are embraced.

Today, too many Americans foreswear such hospitality and coldly deny refuge to the sojourner, to the thirsty, to the hungry who – not coincidentally, I believe – are primarily people of color.

Americans willing to deny asylum to families who are in danger of being murdered, kidnapped, raped or abused if they’re forced back to homes they’re fleeing.

I believe, as Cardinal Sean O’Malley said, that we “cannot be silent when our country’s immigration policy destroys families, traumatizes parents and terrorizes children.”

Americans willing to use children as pawns to enforce hostile immigration policies.

Witness Marco Antonio Muñoz.

Muñoz and his family, who were fleeing Honduras – which has one of the highest murder rates in the world – were detained after they arrived on our doorstep near Granjeno, Texas, to legally apply for asylum.

Muñoz committed suicide after he was forcibly separated from his wife and child.

“They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.”

Muñoz killed himself in a padded cell where he was being held in solitary confinement because authorities feared violence from a man whose family had been violently wrenched from him when they peacefully arrived at America’s doorstep to legally request asylum.

Today, for Marco Antonio Muñoz, there will be no Father’s Day.

“The greatest single fact of the past three decades has been,” Edward Said wrote, “the vast human migration attendant upon war, colonialism and decolonization, economic and political revolution, and such devastating occurrences as famine, ethnic cleansing and great power machinations.”

Said’s three decades are now nearly five and migration is still one of our greatest urgencies – and, I believe, as America has been one of the major contributors to the above-listed destabilizing factors – one of our greatest responsibilities.

And, I believe, one of our greatest moral failures.

Today, in this our nation, a nation which got its start by expropriating the land and resources of indigenous peoples and committing genocide upon them, that built an economy on the backs of slave labor, America is confronting the sojourner, the stranger, not with hospitality and love but with hostility and violence.

Today, we’re witnessing that those traveling to our border who, as enjoined by Luke: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic,” in search of sanctuary and safety find neither, finding instead abuse that frighteningly echoes the historical experiences of other peoples.

As these sojourners arrive – with neither bread nor staff – surrendering themselves to us, our government denies their humanity and drops the flap on Abraham’s tent, denying their humanity.

Allowing them to die, alone, in padded cells.

“And do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbor from among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger, and the friend by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom you rightfully possess,” the Quran instructs, extending shelter even to strangers and slaves.

Radical Hospitality is what makes us human, an affirmation of a duty toward others, an embrace of a world in which we’re constantly reminded of the richness and beauty of human diversity.

Today, as transnational violence and instability rages globally, the Trump administration’s response has been to radically reduce the number of refugees and immigrants allowed to migrate to America, to end TPS (Temporary Protective Status) for families (many of whom have American children and who’re working and paying taxes), to upend DACA protection for those brought to America as small children, and threatens to end Family Unification visa programs.

Donald Trump is extinguishing the lamp beside our once golden door.

We are witnessing today the moral failure of America, of a nation conceived to believe we are endowed “with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, ” where Emma Lazarus pleads, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

An America today where the dehumanization of the Other represents a profound moral failure of imagination, institutions and individuals.

“Immigration policy is a moral question,” O’Malley said, “that cannot be separated from decisions of what it is right and wrong, of justice and injustice. It is about respecting and reverencing the dignity of the human person.”

It is about recognizing we were all once aliens in the land of Egypt.

“Jose, a five-year-old Honduran boy, was taken away from his father by immigration officials last month, after the two of them had crossed the border at El Paso,” the New Yorker reported. “Jose, all alone, was put on a plane to Michigan and placed under the care of a family of kind but anguished strangers.

“In his bedroom at night, he clings to pictures that he’s drawn of his family – his mother and siblings in Honduras, with its epidemic of gang violence, and his father in a U.S. prison. He won’t stop asking, ‘When will I see my papa?’ ”

To whom will Jose, today, say “Happy Father’s Day – I love you?”

To whom?

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com. On Sunday, June 24, at 2 p.m., Azzi will be at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner to engage in conversation about Islam and hold an “Ask a Muslim Anything” program. Everyone is invited. https://tinyurl.com/y9tpyxd6.)


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