By Shyamal Sinha
Led by members of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, and including other well known Buddhist teachers such as Bhikkhu Bodhi and Sharon Salzberg, several hundred American Buddhist teachers issued a statement on Monday condemning the current US policy of separating children from families at the US-Mexico border.
In doing so, they join leaders of numerous other faiths, and members of both major political parties in the United States. The petition has been made publicly available on Change.org, where it had gained more than 9,300 signatures at the time of going to press.
The policy being protested is the current US administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” policy, enacted in April, which is aimed at prosecuting as many border-crossing offenses as possible. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, this has resulted in nearly 2,000 immigrant children being separated from their parents in April and May alone.
Faith leaders across the US have condemned the policy. Catholic Bishop Richard J. Malone said this week: “We can all recognize that children are inherently vulnerable and thus should not be separated from their parents unless there are valid concerns about abuse or trafficking. Family unity is a foundational element of Catholic teaching and must also be a cornerstone of our US immigration system.” (Western New York Catholic)
Meanwhile, more than 600 United Methodist clergy and laypeople signed a formal complaint against US Attorney General Jeff Sessions (himself a Methodist practitioner), accusing him of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination, and “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church.” (USA Today)
The strongly worded statement issued by American Buddhists draws from Buddhist practice of compassion and the belief that a parent-child bond is the ground upon which all further development is built. “As people of faith and conscience, we feel that it is important that we speak out clearly in defense of basic human rights at this time, calling for an immediate end to this heartless practice.”
The full statement reads:
As Western Buddhist leaders, we unreservedly condemn the recently imposed policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border.
Over the past few weeks, thousands of children have been inhumanely taken from their parents by US Customs and Border Protection, in a policy that has been condemned by the United Nations and many international human rights observers. Indeed, no other country has a policy of separating families who intend to seek asylum.
Whatever the legal status of those attempting to enter the US, separating children from their parents is a contravention of basic human rights. Parents seeking asylum make long, dangerous and arduous journeys in an attempt to find safety and well-being for their precious children. Ripping these vulnerable children from their parents is cruel, inhumane, and against the principles of compassion and mercy espoused by all religious traditions. From a Buddhist perspective, it is the close bond between parents and children that nurtures not only the physical well-being of children, but their psychological health and their moral formation.
Separating children from their parents and holding them in detention inflicts terrible and needless trauma and stress on young children that hampers and damages their development, causing long-term damage. This policy being employed on United States soil is morally unconscionable. That such egregious actions be employed as a deterrent for families seeking entry and/or asylum in the U.S. — using the sacred bond between innocent youth and their parents — is unjustifiable on any level. We suggest that our current defenders of this policy visit some of these border crossings and child detention centers so they can experience for themselves the present effects of their decisions. It is difficult to conceive that anyone having compassion for our world’s children and their families, and who witnesses such pain and anguish for themselves could continue to uphold such a practice.
As people of faith and conscience, we feel that it is important that we speak out clearly in defense of basic human rights at this time, calling for an immediate end to this heartless practice. In doing so, we join the voices of many religious leaders and congregations that have unreservedly condemned this policy of separation. This policy is a serious violation of the rights of the child and must be stopped today.