By Rev. Mary Katherine Morn on December 10, 2018
Seventy years ago the world’s nations understood they had failed terribly in their obligation to prevent the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. They had done little or nothing to protect the lives of refugees fleeing brutality and evil. Remarkably, their response, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, begins with a confession: “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of [hu]mankind.”
Barbarous acts. Separating babies from their parents. Holding teenagers in tent prisons. Refusing to receive asylum seekers. Deporting people to their deaths.
My heart is breaking today for Mr. Santos Chirino, a middle-aged father of two who was murdered in Honduras after his asylum claim was denied in the United States under the Obama administration. He is one among many individuals whom our government has deported to their deaths in recent years, and whose martyrdom bears witness that the right to asylum is no abstraction – it is a sacred right, a human right, on which human lives depend.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a product of the global struggle against fascism in the 20th century.
Today I will join other faith leaders from across the country in a collective witness at the U.S.-Mexico border, in partnership with the American Friends Service Committee’s Week of Action for Migrant Justice from December 10-18. We will take a solemn walk to the San Diego-Tijuana border, where we will offer a blessing of solidarity with the thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers who are stranded on the other side.
I can think of no better way to observe International Human Rights Day, which this year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – one of the principal sources of inspiration for our work at UUSC. As our hearts and journeys turn toward our siblings at the border this week, the UDHR has clear significance for the barbarous acts we witness today.
Art. 13: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including [their] own[.]”
In recent weeks, our government has threatened to unveil a plan to hold asylum-seekers in Mexico, preventing them from entering the United States until after their asylum claims are processed. The UDHR clearly addresses any such proposal. Countries are not prisons, and neither the United States nor Mexico has the right to keep people in a nation they are trying to leave, particularly not when they are exercising their right to seek asylum.
Art. 14: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
The UDHR, international covenants, and U.S. law all clearly specify that the United States has an obligation to allow asylum-seekers entry to its territory in order to give them a fair and meaningful chance to apply for asylum. When our nation’s leaders try to ban asylum-seekers or turn people away from ports of entry when they present themselves to seek refuge, they are violating laws that have helped to save thousands of lives from persecution.
Art. 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services[.]”
While we are at the border, Congress will continue to debate its year-end spending proposals, some of which would commit billions of dollars more to detaining, deporting, criminalizing, and excluding immigrants. These are funds that our government holds in trust for the wellbeing of our shared community; they should be used to further access to the essential rights that the UDHR enumerates, not to tear apart families and neighbors.
It is as important now as ever to honor the legacy and spirit of the UDHR. In 1948, the UDHR represented the hope of a world that their own moral failure would never be repeated. A world in which “human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want.” Like so many of our highest aspirations, this promise has not yet been fulfilled in the world.
Seventy years later we still hold these aspirations. And on the border, today, we make clear that we will not stop advocating for those seeking to enter this nation. We solemnly pledge to continue fighting and affirming the worth and dignity of all human beings.
Photo Credit: Alxey Pnferov