Midway through a press conference with the Arkansas leaders of several religious denominations who were calling for an end to separating children from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico, David Cook’s phone vibrated. The legislative director for Faith Voices Arkansas read a news bulletin that said President Donald Trump had reversed his position on families caught crossing into the U.S.
Cook then stepped to the podium to share the news.
"We just learned that a presidential executive order has been signed to stop the practice of separating children from families," he said to applause from several dozen religious leaders gathered Wednesday afternoon at First United Methodist Church in Little Rock.
But Cook added, “there’s still work to be done. The families will still continue to be detained together, and as our lawmakers do go forward with some sort of immigration reform, we do need to pray for those families who are affected."
The group said it was a moral response to a humanitarian crisis, and urged Arkansans to contact their elected representatives in Washington, DC. Cook said compassion, love and mercy were needed from lawmakers as they develop legislation to address the problem, rather than falling back on party politics.
Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder, a pastor with Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, reiterated, "there’s still work to be done. Tell your members of Congress that enforcement-only immigration reform does not work, and that what is needed is comprehensive immigration reform which entails a path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants, the protection of the rights of workers, and to reunify families separated by migration and detainment."
Rev. Snyder is the wife of former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat who served in Congress between 1997 and 2011.
Little Rock Rabbi Gene Levy, Reform Judaism, invoked history during the press conference and called for unity among the leaders of all religious faiths.
"The Jewish people know all too well what happens when human beings are declared illegal and children are ripped from the arms of their parents," he said. "We are required to stand up and say in one voice that while the bible teaches us many things, above all else, our tradition teaches us that life is precious and we’re responsible for our neighbors."
A statement from Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Catholic Church Diocese of Little Rock, who was not able to attend Wednesday's event, was read by Cook.
This latest action of our government in separating children from their parents shows us clearly the depths of the depravity that sets in when year after year we deny people their basic human rights—in this case, the right to immigrate when desperate circumstances so require. People fleeing intolerable situations should be welcomed with open arms and a generous heart. Instead the heart of many Americans has hardened so thoroughly that we would even separate innocent children from parents who have made great sacrifices in an attempt to secure for them a better life—people in many ways no different from our own immigrant ancestors! Lord, give us a new heart and place a new spirit within us. Remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.