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February 14, 2019

Beyond the Wall: Human Impacts, Moral Principles, and Policy Directions on Immigration

By Therese Perby Señal (C'19)

In the shadow of the recent 35-day government shutdown over the building of a southern border wall, members of the Georgetown community gathered for an event hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. The discussion featured a religious woman, a moral theologian, a lawyer, an Evangelical leader, and an undocumented Georgetown student, and focused on the human and moral cost of immigration and border security.

Georgetown student Jaquelin Martinez (C‘19) opened the panel, describing the hardships of her father, Moris, as he fled El Salvador to America, in hopes of a better life. Martinez, herself an UndocuHoya (undocumented member of the Georgetown community) and DACA ( Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, received some of the most thunderous applause of the night, as she told the audience that undocumented immigrants do not need pity, but rather “compassionate partnership.”

Sr. Nora Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley, opened the panel. Born and raised at the southern border, Pimentel discussed her work at the Arise Support Center for migrants. Her most poignant statement was telling the story of a Honduran immigrant, a woman making the journey to the U.S. with a young child and another on the way. When asked why she would undertake such a dangerous trek, she held out her disfigured hand, and proclaimed “had we stayed, we would not be alive today.”

While Martinez and Pimentel set the stage for a discussion of the human cost of U.S. policy at the border, Fr. David Hollenbach drew on religious and moral tradition. Hollenbach, the Pedro Arrupe Distinguished Research Professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and the former president of Catholic Theological Society of America, noted the Church’s belief that humanity is all part of one family, with a responsibility to reach across borders to help others.

Ashley Feasley, on the other hand, approached the issue from a legal perspective. Feasley, the director of policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs and former director of advocacy for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., pointed to the backlog of 800,000 immigration cases. She argued that this problem could be alleviated with more immigration judges. While working with immigrants, she said that she was often asked how to legally go through the immigration process and that no one she ever worked with sought to break the law.

Galen Carey was the last of the panelists and the only Evangelical. Carey, the vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals and the co-author of Faith in the Voting Booth, referred to the importance of the family, a belief shared by Catholics. He described the wall as a contradiction to this tradition and denounced the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

Therese Perby Señal (C'19) is a senior in the College studying computer science.