In a letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table, NAE President Leith Anderson expressed concern over the “zero tolerance” policy that is dividing children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and urged President Trump to keep families together. “The Bible says that families came first and government later. Let’s not buck the Bible by separating families,” Anderson said.
Dear Mr. President:
As evangelical leaders representing tens of thousands of local churches, campus communities, and ministries we are concerned that the new “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, recently announced by Attorney General Sessions and being implemented by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, has had the effect of separating vulnerable children from their parents. As head of the Executive Branch of the federal government, we are writing to ask you to resolve this situation of families being separated that you have rightly described as “horrible.”
As evangelical Christians guided by the Bible, one of our core convictions is that God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society. The state should separate families only in the rarest of instances. While illegal entry to the United States can be a misdemeanor criminal violation, past administrations have exercised discretion in determining when to charge individuals with this offense, taking into account the wellbeing of children who may also be involved.
A “zero tolerance” policy removes that discretion—with the effect of removing even small children from their parents. The traumatic effects of this separation on these young children, which could be devastating and long-lasting, are of utmost concern.
U.S. law currently allows individuals with a credible fear of persecution to request asylum whether the individual enters with a valid visa, requests asylum at a port of entry, or is apprehended seeking to enter without a visa. Not every individual arriving will merit asylum protection, but we would ask that families be kept together while ensuring each individual asylum seeker is afforded due process according to our laws.
We are also concerned that there are fewer legal possibilities for those with a well-founded fear of persecution to be considered for refugee status without needing to make it to the U.S. border. The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program has allowed many fleeing persecution in Central America and elsewhere to register as refugees abroad and be thoroughly vetted before coming lawfully to the U.S. However, with significantly fewer refugees being admitted in recent years, there are fewer options for those fleeing persecution. Those facing legitimate threats to their lives often feel they have no choice but to leave their countries and seek asylum elsewhere.
We respectfully ask you to work with Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen to reverse this “zero tolerance” policy and instead urge law enforcement entities to exercise discretion to protect the unity of families. We also ask that you work with the U.S. State Department to resume a robust U.S. refugee resettlement program and to leverage U.S. influence to seek peaceful resolutions to the situations of violence in Central America.
We appreciate your attention to these urgent matters and your service to our country. We continue to pray for you and for all who serve in your administration.
Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals
Scott Arbeiter, President, World Relief
Shirley V. Hoogstra, President, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities
Hyepin Im, President & CEO, Korean Churches for Community Development/Faith and Community Empowerment
Jo Anne Lyon, Ambassador, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church
Russell Moore, President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Richard Stearns, President, World Vision