Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears determined to inflict as much pain as possible in his efforts to deter immigrants from gaining entrance into the country. He supports the practice of separating asylum-seeking parents from their children, and this week he eliminated fear of gangs and fear of domestic violence as grounds for granting asylum to foreign nationals who show up at our borders.
In Slate, Jamelle Bouie chronicles Sessions’ record of hostility toward immigrants, including those who are allowed to ask for asylum in the United States. Sessions opposes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and, like President Trump, he has associated immigration with criminality. By all accounts, Sessions appears to be obsessed with immigrants, and his passion for the draconian seems to be about something more than the rule of law.
“We have never been so rich, and never been so mean,” a friend said during a recent discussion of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration. Sessions, a Republican former senator from Alabama, has been right in the thick of it, doing Trump’s bidding and then some, to keep the country’s populace from becoming browner.
When he announced the new policy on domestic violence and threats from gangs, Sessions took direct aim at people moving north from Central America through Mexico, particularly women who have been sexually and physically abused. Such a change in the asylum policies should outrage every citizen who still sees the immigrant narrative as part of the American story.
But, more than that, it made me wonder what kind of Christian Sessions could be because nothing in his recent actions reveals a man informed by Jesus Christ. Nothing suggests a man who asks, “What Would Jesus Do?”
I don’t usually go to religion in examining the motives, words or deeds of politicians. But Trump and his supporters have been so openly hostile toward immigrants and refugees — some of the hemisphere’s most vulnerable people — that I find myself looking far beyond their interpretation of federal law, their understanding of American ideals, their politics or even their conservative values.
I wonder what informs their hearts, what fills their souls.
“There have been days in which my faith has meant a tremendous amount to me and how people without it get by, I don’t know,” Sessions told Christian Broadcasting Network last year.
He is Methodist, a member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile, where he’s been a Sunday school teacher.
I was curious about Methodist teaching on immigrants and inquired about it. A minister in Alabama directed me to a website with the church’s official positions.
Given what I’ve found there, it’s clear from his recent actions that Sessions has not been paying attention in Sunday school.
“Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children,” the bishops said.
A group called United Methodist Women called for the Department of Justice to “do right by the immigrant children on our borders — surely among the weakest and most vulnerable among us — and immediately end the policy of separating children from their families.”
More generally, the Methodist website advocates generosity and charity toward immigrants, making numerous references to scripture and noting that Christ started life as a refugee, with his family fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s infanticide.
The United Methodist “Book of Resolutions,” published in 2016, notes that immigrants have frequently been seen as a threat to Americans:
“Throughout the history of the United States, the most recently arrived group of migrants has often been a target of racism, marginalization and violence. We regret any and all violence committed against migrants in the past and we resolve, as followers of Jesus, to work to eliminate racism and violence directed toward newly arriving migrants to the United States.”
The resolution calls on all Methodists to “denounce and oppose the rise of xenophobic, racist, and violent reactions” against immigrants in the United States; to support churches that offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants facing deportation, and to urge Congress to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and to reunite families separated at the border.