From the Hill: Korea, US/MX Border, & NAFTA

"From the Hill" is the Columban Center’s recap of some of the month’s most pressing issues. Staying up-to-date on current events seems especially overwhelming these days, so we’re here to offer the Columban take on what’s happening in Washington, DC and around the world.  

Each month we dive into a number of themes related to our four priority issue areas: migration, environmental justice, economic justice, and peace & demilitarization.  

This month we take a magnifying glass to U.S. foreign policy regarding North & South Korea, US/Mexico border enforcement policies, and some quick takes on federal funding and more.  


In August last year, the Columbans in the United States released a statement responding to the increasing tensions between the United States and North Korea, and urging diplomacy between the two nations. At the time, North Korea was conducting a series of missile and nuclear tests, which, along with threats and heated rhetoric from both North Korea and the U.S., raised the threat of nuclear escalation.  

Almost a year later, we now find ourselves in another increasingly tense situation between the U.S. and North Korea. It began with what seemed to be a shift in relations between both North and South Korea and North Korea and the U.S. Channels of communication appeared to be opening, due in large part to South Korea’s facilitation, with a series of meetings planned, including a summit between the U.S. and North Korea to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization and the potential for a peace treaty between North and South Korea. However, it is unclear if the summit scheduled for June 12 will happen. Hostile remarks from both U.S. leaders and North Korean officials prompted President Trump to call off this summit last Thursday, but subsequent statements from both sides seem to keep the possibility open.

Columban Fr Pat Cunningham
joins an international group of Columban Lay Missionaries
on a solidarity visit to Gangeong village, Jeju, South Korea
the scene of an 8-year non violent struggle against the building of a Naval Base. 

Plans for this summit came after a historic meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in at the border between the two countries this April. Fr. Pat Cunningham, the Columban Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for South Korea, commented on this meeting:  

Greetings on a very historic day when peace on the Korean peninsula appears to have taken a giant step closer after the first meeting between Korean leaders in 11 years took place in Panmunjeom. A joint statement said that ‘there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun’ which is incredibly positive news. The declaration also stated that both sides would work toward the ‘complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula’ and would resume reunion gatherings of separated family members in the autumn. 

He goes on to say: 

Let’s hope that the Trump-Kim summit will build fruitfully on what was achieved today after much diplomacy in recent months and that we can look forward to the signing of a Peace Treaty on July 27 which would provide a new dawn for peace in Korea and the entire region. 

Despite vacillating commitments from the leaders of the three countries, Columbans and other advocates have been working for peace and demilitarization on the peninsula for decades. 

Columbans first arrived in Korea in 1933 and were present through the many traumatic events of the country’s history, including World War II and the Korean War (here is a brief history of Columbans in Korea). Both in the past and today, Columbans have worked on efforts to demilitarize the Korean peninsula, including resisting the building of a naval base on Jeju Island. As a Society, the Columbans support lasting peace in the region through diplomacy and denuclearization. The implementation of such a plan, however, will depend on the commitment of international leaders, and our own country, to meaningful dialogue.  


Over the past month, the administration has added a number of new tools to its border and immigration enforcement toolbox. Not only does this include increased infrastructure along the border, but also efforts by both the administration and Congress to limit the ability of vulnerable people coming to the southern border seeking safety to access protection.  

In terms of construction of physical barriers at the border, the administration is requesting further funding from Congress to make this happen (an increase of half a billion dollars for FY19). President Trump has also made it clear that his support for a legislative solution for DACA recipients is contingent on such a solution being combined with increased border enforcement.

The border wall from Ciudad Juárez, MX

Border enforcement efforts are not only concentrated on physical barriers, however, but also administrative barriers. The most recent example of this is Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that the administration will criminally prosecute 100% of people crossing the border between ports of entry. This has not been the common practice up until this point and the results will further traumatize migrants and their families, and reduce their access to due process.  

This move, which has already been piloted along sections of the border, separates families who arrive at the border together. When a parent is referred for criminal prosecution, they are placed in an adult detention center. This means their children are effectively rendered unaccompanied and taken away from them to be turned over to the Department of Health and human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. The direct consequences of this policy is that the federal government is actively taking children away from their parents, often placing both parent and child in detention facilities.  

Fr. Bob Mosher, a Columban priest who directs the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, TX, responded to this change in policy: 

“Columbans have lived and ministered on the US/Mexico border for over 20 years. We have witnessed the devastating impacts that arbitrary increases in enforcement, including this most recent announcement, have on migrants and border communities. It is immoral to make families suffer this kind of traumatic separation of children from their parents, especially in order to obtain some imagined purpose that is thought to justify the measure--that is, to send a message of deterrence to others. As Catholics and members of border communities, we consider it a blessing and an opportunity to serve and support those coming to the United States seeking safety and stability. We believe our federal policy should reflect the same welcome and respect that border communities themselves show, and abstain from this unethical treatment of human beings, made in the image of our Creator."  

Fr. Bob Mosher, SSC

Check out this jarring op-ed from the perspective of a children’s service provider on family separation at the border. 


And for all those issues we didn’t cover in-depth this month… 

  • NAFTA: The renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been both advancing and stalling over the past few months. Do you have questions about the implications of the renegotiation? Or simply want to know more about the faith-based perspective on NAFTA? Check out our new NAFTA resource here! 
  • ICE RAIDS: The Trump administration has increased worksite immigration raids by almost 400%. These raids create fear and trauma, leave local economies upended, and inhumanely separate families. Our Advocacy Coordinator reflects on the experiences of Postville, IA in the aftermath of one of the largest worksite immigration raids in U.S. history.  
  • FEDERAL FUNDING: Congress is currently moving through the process to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019. This process is crucially important as it’s when Congress decides how much money each federal agency receives. This impacts immigration enforcement efforts, our ability to respond to climate change, and our foreign assistance (among many other things!). Check out our brief appropriations backgrounder for some more information on the process here