by Kipp Gilmore-Clough

In his Aug. 28 letter, David Banov characterizes a report on my church group’s trip to the Sonoran Desert as containing “many assumptions devoid of facts.” I’m glad he took the time to write, as it provides an invitation to respond – and perhaps other readers hold similar misconceptions.

The crisis around immigration into this nation is a complex one, with many moving parts. From the motivations that draw people here, to the mechanisms for legal entry (or, really, the increasing lack thereof – it is hard to “get in line” when there is no line in which to get), to where people go and what they do when they have arrived here, the interlocking systems of cause and effect cannot be adequately summed up by blaming “sanctuary cities.”

As a group, we referred to our trip as a “Witness at the Border,” and we took very seriously the aim of seeing and learning about the real-life consequences of our border policies. We expressly wanted to move beyond assumptions to see the facts on the ground.

To that end, we read scholarly and firsthand accounts by people who have studied and worked inside the immigration system, walked trails with volunteers who put out water in the desert to save lives, met personally with the director of a shelter that temporarily houses asylum seekers through an agreement with ICE, personally observed conditions on both sides of the US border with Mexico, observed a session of the court program that adjudicates shackled border crossers en masse before imprisoning and then deporting them, and spoke directly with the presiding judge of that program, who offered his own candid assessment.

The most troubling part of Banov’s letter is the connection he draws between sanctuary city policies and urban blight. That is, at best, a non sequitur. There is a loud and xenophobic strain of national rhetoric that equates immigrants with criminality. However, actual research has shown, again and again, that migrants commit crimes far less often than citizens do. Urban blight is not so much a symptom of immigration policies as it is a result of the myriad ways in which we refuse to see poor people as human beings.

The hard truth is that 25 years of bipartisan effort have resulted in border policies that are killing people. It is difficult to see one’s nation as complicit in the suffering of human beings. And yet, in order to become fully human ourselves, facts – not assumptions, and not emotionally-based defense mechanisms – are what will set us and the victims of our policies, free. We would be happy to offer a list of suggested resources to Banov and anyone who would like to engage this question more deeply.

The Rev. Kipp Gilmore-Clough is the associate pastor at Chestnut Hill United Church.