The Government, Undocumented Children, and the Church: Why Tony Perkins Should Retract His Statements

The Government, Undocumented Children, and the Church: Why Tony Perkins Should Retract His Statements

There’s this piece gaining momentum on Facebook status updates that was written by Tony Perkins with the Family Research Council. In it, Perkins tells the story of one Tuscon pastor’s failed attempt to get aid to the unaccompanied and undocumented minors being held at the Nogales Placement Center in Arizona, and then uses this anecdotal story as evidence to accuse the US government (specifically, President Obama) of “banning” the church from helping.  He says:

“The President won’t lock down the border, but he has no problem locking out the church. With reports of over 50,000 unaccompanied minors having already crossed the border, a number which is estimated to climb to 90,000, it appears the only ones unwelcome in America are Christian pastors and their churches.”

The article then quotes the pastor:

“Pastor Coffin offered everything from toys, blankets, food, and soccer balls — only to be turned away. ‘They flat-out said no,’ he told Starnes. Due to ‘the unique operational and security challenges of the Nogales Placement Center,’ he was informed, churches and their donations are banned. ‘Border Patrol told us pastors and churches are not allowed to visit. It’s pretty heartbreaking that they don’t let anybody in there — even credentialed pastors.’ All we wanted to do, he explained, was to ‘send a message that a church cares.'”

Then Perkins follows up with this:

“Why would the government turn away humanitarian assistance? Could it be that Big Government doesn’t like competition? There’s no question that an ever-expanding government, by necessity, must crowd out churches and other charities. We saw something very similar with Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Instead of partnering with local churches, FEMA kept faith-based groups at arm’s length, leaving a less effective and more expensive government to fill the void.

If the border emergency is, as the President insists, a ‘humanitarian crisis,’ then it’s time to treat it as such and let the church do its work. Scripture makes it clear that our responsibility to address the plight of the poor is fundamental to living out our faith. Arthur Brooks points out in his book Who Really Cares? that liberals equate this responsibility with the call for more government programs. But that effort to shift the responsibility to the government deprives the giver and the recipient of tangible and intangible benefits.

Like most liberals, this President wants Washington to be your provider, family, and even authority figure. But Americans don’t need that intrusion — and more importantly, they don’t want it! Those roles are already filled by parents, churches, and local communities. Regardless of how anyone feels about the immigration debate, surely we can all agree that these 52,000 children have very real needs — physical and spiritual. No one is more equipped to handle them than the church — which is why Congress ought to include in any funding package provisions that allow faith-based group to help.”

Now, the thing is, anyone even slightly associated with the many faith based organizations that did provide relief and are still helping in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina realizes what utter nonsense is in Perkins’ initial claim. Ask those who have served with United Methodist Volunteers in Missions (VIM) teams or other groups associated with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  They have been there from the beginning and are still there, along with several other faith based organizations, working at providing full restoration to individuals and communities.  This is the same kind of thing those of us in Oklahoma have seen with our tornado disasters: an always at times chaotic (due to the nature of the situation) but typically partnership-oriented relationship between government and appropriately prepared, trained, and equipped faith-based organizations. And the best of these faith-based groups stay for the long haul, partnering with government and doing what government can’t do.

Perkins is also incorrect regarding the current issue of aid to undocumented minors.  Though pastor Coffin’s story may be true (his idea and offer of aid may have indeed been rejected), that doesn’t mean that all faith-based attempts to help have been rejected.  As a matter of fact, the exact opposite is true.  I know this because I too belong to a faith community that wants to help. So I began the process of finding out how: I contacted a chaplain friend at the military base where the minors are being held here in Oklahoma. He put me in contact with the public affairs department for the base.  They put me in contact with the Department of State.  Once on the phone with the State Department, they informed me that they use third party relief agencies who specialize in working with refugees, and they sent me to a link that listed all of these agencies for each state.

Guess what?  In my state the only agency officially sanctioned by the State Department for refugee relief work is a representative arm of the Church: Catholic Charities.  And on their website, Catholic Charities lists exactly the kind of help they need, and they provide a detailed online application for those wishing to volunteer and make a difference in the lives of these children.  Here is what their website contains (please note the clarity it has regarding the invitation extended by the US government as well as the goal of expressing the love of God to these children):

“As the incredible influx of immigrant children continues to increase across the United States border, Catholic Charities has been called to respond. As some of the children begin to arrive at the Ft. Sill detention center, Catholic Charities has been asked to provide Know Your Rights presentations and legally triage the children. This is a process that must occur at every center to assess the many unique legal situations each child is facing. Catholic Charities is providing these services at the request of the U.S. Government and its contractors. The goal of this program is to ensure that each child understands their immigration status as it relates to U.S. Immigration Law.

Throughout this process it is important to remember that the immigrant children and their families are human beings, each created by God and therefore worthy of our utmost dignity and love.

If you are interested in any of the volunteer opportunities below, click the link below. Once you submit your application you will be asked to complete a background check. Failure to complete the background check within 24 hours of submitting your application with delay the processing of your application. Your application will then be reviewed by Catholic Charities and you’ll be contacted if you are selected to participate in this program.

Weekend volunteer opportunities are available.” (emphasis added)

Of course, some of the specificity in terms of the kind of volunteers and aid which are needed might not fit the agenda of some individuals, churches, organizations, or pundits. Even if my church’s intentions are truly the best, but what we want to provide isn’t the kind of help needed, I can’t use that to bring blanket charges that the government is excluding all churches and faith groups from helping.  Whatever the case, the reality is that far contrary to Perkins’ article, the Church is not being excluded by our government but is one of the primary sources of care chosen by our government in these situations.

In many states the Church is represented among other organizations, and in others (as in the case with Oklahoma) the Church is the sole provider of third-party care for refugees.  In the overall list, church-based organizations are in a large majority. Notably, in the state of Arizona, where Perkins and Pastor Coffin claim the church is actively and intentionally being denied access, four out of five of the agencies officially sanctioned by the State Department are church-based organizations:

Address: 1825 W Northern Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85021-5298
Phone: 602-997-6105 x51028 Fax: 602-870-2891

USCCB AZ-USCCB-03: Catholic Charities Community Services
Address: 615 West Pierson Street
Phoenix, AZ 85013
Phone: 602-530-5519 Fax: 602-944-1829

DFMS AZ-DFMS-01: Refugee Focus (parent organization: Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest)
Address: 5049 East Broadway Blvd., Suite 126
Tucson, AZ 85711
Phone: 520-721-4444 Fax: 520-721-4479

IRC AZ-IRC-02: International Rescue Committee
Address: 3100 N. Campbell Avenue, Suite 101
Tucson, AZ 85719
Phone: 520-319-2128 Fax: 520-319-2160

LIRS AZ-LIRS-02: Refugee Focus (parent organization: Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest)
Address: 5049 E. Broadway Blvd, Suite 126
Tucson, AZ 85711
Phone: 520-721-4444 EXT 13 Fax: 520-721-4479

USCCB AZ-USCCB-02: Catholic Migration & Refugee Services
Address: 140 W. Speedway Blvd #130
Tucson, AZ 85705
Phone: 520-623-0344 x1012 Fax: 520-770-8556

So, if Mr. Perkins would do a little more research (that would likely take less than an hour), he would find that he can redirect his efforts at getting Congress to “include in any funding package provisions that allow faith-based group to help”.  Apparently, they’ve already beat him to it, so he can rest easy and save his energy for another cause.  Also, he may want to apologize and admit his error in accusing someone falsely when he said: “If the White House were less interested in stifling religion and more interested in providing relief, it would see the faith community for what it is: partners in service, not pests.” At least on this issue, it seems the U.S. government is doing fine in partnering with faith-based organizations.

Please note that the prohibition against accusing someone falsely is one of the Ten Commandments. It’s a very serious offense (even an abomination):

“If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother.  So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you.”

(Deuteronomy 19.16–20 ESV)

There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

(Proverbs 6.16–19 ESV)


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About the author

I’m a husband, father, and one of those friends who has a terrible habit of not returning phone calls.  I’m really just trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, and I enjoy meeting great people along the way and maybe having a chance to spend time talking about things deep and trivial.

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