Patrick Flaherty, Legislative Advocacy Intern

Patrick Flaherty, a recent college graduate from Maryland, recently started an internship in the Washington D.C. ELCA Advocacy Office. As ELCA Policy Directors send out blogs and other alerts on legislative action, we are excited to share new thoughts, stories, and perspectives on the issues from students, leaders, and Lutherans from across the country. Consider sharing your story by clicking here.

As a recent college graduate, I have had a lot of great opportunities to get involved in service and social justice work, two things I am very passionate about. As much as I love direct service I know in order to truly solve major systemic problems, you need long-term solutions. This is what created my interest in addressing issues through policy. I am excited to learn about the different aspects of policy work with the great people at ELCA Advocacy over the next couple months.

During my undergraduate studies I was able to take a number of courses that focused on the history and people of Central America. I became especially interested in U.S. international policies in the region, how they affected the people there, and how these policies continue to impact Central America-U.S. relations today. For me there is a strong connection between immigrant and migrant justice today, and the effects of U.S. policy in Central America. Keeping in mind the livelihoods of immigrants and migrants is even more important as rising violence in Central America has created major forced displacement in and outside the region, and immigration is a central topic of the public, political and presidential discourse. I believe staying informed on these issues and approaching them with compassion for the people they affect is part of our calling as people of faith.

Since starting at the ELCA Advocacy office, I’ve had the chance to go to different coalition meetings such as the Central America & Mexico Working Group and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) office to learn what different organizations are doing on the ground to respond to the forced displacement of Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans. Currently the three countries, commonly referred to together as the Northern Triangle, are disproportionately affected by violence forcing many people to flee to safety. These people, including children and families, are asylum seekers under international law. However the U.S. government has not recognized them as such.

I often think about how—or more precisely, when— the US will change its relationships with our southern neighbors, recognize those fleeing as needing international protection, and admit our role in some of the current problems the region is facing. Two recent articles by The New York Times highlight the US’s role in deporting General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova to El Salvador, and pushing for the deportation of former vice minister of defense Inocente Orlando Montano Morales to face justice in Spain. Both men participated in ordering the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in their home at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. These extraditions can be seen as step in the right direction for the U.S., which helped fund many of the military operations in El Salvador in the 1980s that killed thousands of innocent civilians and propped up dictatorships under the guise of fighting Communism in the region.

The U.S. should continue on this path of seeking justice in the many cases of human rights violations that occurred with our government’s support in numerous Latin American countries not just El Salvador. Confronting our troubled past and accepting the roles our nation played in harming the people of Latin America should be part of building stronger relations with our neighbors. Unfortunately, at the same time the US supports these high profile deportations they are supporting the detention of thousands of children and families fleeing violence in their home countries by increasing political and financial support for efforts by Mexico to detain and deport these refugees and asylum seekers. Most of these people will be sent back to the violent neighborhoods and cities they left in the first place without ever being offered the proper legal channels to file for asylum.

Last week, I attended a hearing held by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a branch of the Organization of American States that protects and promotes human rights in the Americas, focusing on the illegal practice by governments of stopping asylum seekers from reaching safety. The Northern Triangle countries do not have the institutions or governmental infrastructure to protect people targeted by violent agents in their countries so people are forced to look for safety outside their communities, whether it means inside or outside their country. All of the nonprofit and governmental leaders testified of their work on the ground trying to assist these refugees and the need for better institutions that can comply with international laws. The U.S. is currently the best option for thousands of people who would be harmed if they stay in their home communities. Even while we try to make some amends for past injustices we supported, we cannot ignore the current plights of thousands of Central Americans simply seeking a better life and peaceful communities. As people of faith we should reflect on Jesus’s parable about ‘The Judgment of the Nations’ from Matthew 25. He tells us that when we acted for those of His family we act for Him and here we find our calling to welcome the stranger. Hopefully we can urge our government and our communities to join in this call, especially when people facing danger and violence seek our help.