On Thursday, July 18th The Alliance to End Human Trafficking was proud to gather with hundreds of other Catholics from across the country for a day of action in Washington DC to protest the inhumane treatment and conditions in migrant detention centers, particularly those holding children. Present from the national leadership of AEHT was Jennifer Reyes Lay, Executive Director; Sr. Ann Scholz, board member and chair of the advocacy working group, and Sr. Maryann Mueller, board member and chair of the education working group.
At first glance, it might not seem obvious why a coalition focused on ending human trafficking and supporting survivors would also answer the call to show up and speak out against the inhumane treatment of migrants and refugees. However, there are many parallels between human trafficking and the abuse we are witnessing right now against migrants and refugees. The same cultural values and systems that perpetuate human trafficking also contribute to the current rhetoric and treatment of foreign nationals. Some examples of this are the dehumanization of migrants and refugees (i.e. calling them ‘animals’ or ‘illegals’), physical and sexual abuse, and the assertion of power and dominance over another by threatening access to food, water, health care and controlling one’s physical movement.
Childhood trauma can also be a significant factor in making one vulnerable to traffickers. The American Academy of Pediatrics has spoken out about the trauma that these migrant and refugee children are facing due to current U.S. policy and treatment in the detention centers. This makes them more vulnerable in the future to potentially become victims of traffickers, and as an organization dedicated to ending all forms of modern-day slavery, we must do all we can to support and empower those most vulnerable to human trafficking.
In order to change the culture which allows human trafficking to exist, we must be attentive to all of the ways these values and behaviors that demean and dehumanize another show up, and we must speak out against them. All human beings are created with inherent dignity, made in the image of God. We as people of faith, and particularly as Catholics, are called to make a preferential option for the poor, to welcome the stranger, and work to ensure the rights of all people and all of creation are respected. The same faith values that motivate us to work to end modern-day slavery, also demand that we speak out against the current abuse we are witnessing against migrant and refugee children.
The gravity of the current crisis and suffering of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters led 70 people to engage in an act of civil disobedience in the Russell Senate building as part of the action on July 18th. Religious sisters, brothers, priests, and lay leaders gathered together in prayer and song to lift up the names and stories of the six children who have died in U.S. custody in the past yearwhile connecting their suffering with the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. When asked to leave, they refused. AEHT is proud that Sr. Ann Scholz, one of our board members, was among those 70 arrested for their prophetic witness in defense of migrant children. We support her and all those arrested as they put their faith into action and challenge others to do the same.
This day of action was just the first in a series being organized by Catholic coalitions and religious orders to put pressure on the government and encourage more Catholics to take action to stop the inhumane treatment of our refugee and migrant brothers and sisters. Many of the member congregations of AEHT were part of this action and are helping to plan future actions. We encourage you to stay connected and get involved if you are not already. We are one human family, and what impacts one impacts us all. Together, we can stop the inhumanity!Catholic Day of Action