…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR), Preamble
Defending human rights is a political act. Without respect for human rights, democracy crumbles and stability gives way to civil unrest, insecurity, and migration, as people do what they feel they have to do to survive.
Defending human rights is also a prophetic act. The United States voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and many of its tenets are enshrined in our Constitution. Despite our history of upholding human rights as foundational to democracy, it seems like support for rights in our country, other than our own individual rights, has eroded. An image of Texas placing barriers in the Rio Grande, stranding migrants in the river, comes to mind. Or arresting volunteers for placing water in the desert, leaving migrants to die of thirst. Or placing barriers to applying for asylum at the U.S. border. What’s often missing in our national conversation is the understanding that we all belong together and we will rise or fall together.
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. UNDHR, Article 13.
Recognition of human dignity and the rights and responsibilities that come with it is also foundational to Catholic Social Teaching and the Bible. As Catholics and other people of faith we imagine the world through God’s eyes, and we seek to create that world. Mystics channel the Divine vision, and prophets shout it to the rooftops, often at their own peril. Real prophets are mystics: through Divine encounter, they experience the world as God does, weeping, I imagine, for how poorly we humans co-create that vision.
Last week I attended the annual meeting of the Franciscan Network on Migration (RFM), in El Salvador. Quixote Center has partnered with RFM since 2019, almost since its inception. The RFM is designed to unite the Franciscan family in this hemisphere to defend the dignity and rights of migrants. Prophets and mystics, their country teams provide basic human services to the mass of humanity walking through their countries, and advocate with their governments for humane policies. They do this sometimes at risk to themselves; it is not just in the United States that fear frequently replaces love.
Migration has reached crisis levels, with the number passing through Panama’s dangerous Darien Gap surpassing 400,000 already this year. A record that will likely get broken, because the migration crisis is going to get worse. Climate change leads to severe weather events, causing instability which erodes democracy and security, which leads to migration. Lack of economic opportunity, sometimes fueled by climate change, leads to instability which erodes democracy and security, which leads to migration.
If we want to impact the migration crisis we have to impact the “push” factors. Lack of economic opportunity is a huge push factor, and this is where Quixote Center focuses our efforts. Part of that effort involves mitigating the effects of climate change and food insecurity in Haiti, through reforestation programs and strengthening small-scale farmers. In addition, it’s no accident that the bulk of the current migrant flow is coming from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, where the United States has implemented severe economic sanctions, and Haiti, where the United States has intervened in democratic processes from its first days as an independent country.
Part of our role with the RFM is to advocate with our own government to address the push factors, and for humane policies for those migrants who do reach our borders. In the past year, you all have sent more than 3300 messages to Members of Congress, and Quixote Center staff has meet personally with congressional staff more than a dozen times. Our current action alerts are here.
A second part of our role with the RFM is to accompany their country teams and contribute to their efforts to strengthen their capacity to uphold the dignity and humanity of migrants through humanitarian assistance. With your help, we have strengthened human rights reporting in Honduras, strengthened the physical infrastructure at the La 72 shelter in Mexico, and contributed toward opening and sustaining a shelter for migrants with medical issues in Panama. We will continue to raise money for Panama this year until we reach our goal of $15,000. We invite you to contribute here.
The third part of our role with RFM is to contribute to raising the visibility of their work, seeking empathy for the migrant experience, in the United States. We aim to convert fear into love. We do this in part through our blog posts and other communications, but mostly through our solidarity travel program. We plan to visit the La 72 shelter and others along the migrant trail in December, and Panama this spring. You can find information and an application here.
Quixote Center was founded out of the prophetic belief that it is madness to accept the world as it is, instead of as it ought to be. We imagine a different world, one where people live in peace, sustaining themselves and their families in dignity and without fear. 1500 people a day walking through the Darien in order to reach safety in our country is madness. Thank you for walking with us toward another vision.