Church nativity scene depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph as caged asylum seekers

The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that more than 5,400 migrant children are currently in government custody, and separated from their families.

A nativity scene commissioned by the Claremont United Methodist Church depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees at the US-Mexico border (photo credit: CLAREMONT UNITED METHODIST CHURCH)
A nativity scene commissioned by the Claremont United Methodist Church depicting Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees at the US-Mexico border
The Claremont United Methodist Church is using their nativity scene to spotlight the predicament asylum seekers are experiencing at the US-Mexican border.
The nativity scene itself depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees placed in three individual cages with barbed wire lining the top, separating the biblical family from one another. Baby Jesus is wrapped in a silver foil blanket normally given to the refugees of these camps upon their arrival at the southern border.
“This is a sacred family to us. We hold this family dear. And part of our vision is that they’re standing in for all the nameless others. For us, this is theological, this is not political,” Pastor Karen Clark Ristine said on Monday, commenting during a speech in front of the scene. On her Facebook page, she added that, "In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our borders and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world."
Ristine said that the biblical account of Mary and Joseph fleeing Israel, and seeking asylum in Egypt to escape certain death for their newborn child under King Herod's rule, mirrors the plights that many of these asylum seekers face at the border today. One of the most touchy aspects of the debate revolves around the separation of children from their families at the border.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimated that more than 5,400 migrant children are currently in government custody and separated from their families. 1,556 of the separations are attached to the efforts of the Trump administration this year.
"Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus, no older than two, taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center," Ristine wrote on her Facebook account.
The crisis at the southern border is unprecedented for recent times. An attempt by the administration to stifle the rate of asylum seekers entering the country has caused a humanitarian crisis at the border, forcing thousands of desperate migrants to live in deplorable conditions along the line.
More than 55,000 people are now scattered throughout camps all across the US-Mexican border, awaiting government approval to start their asylum processes – living in squalor with no access to work and education, and with little if any medical services available.
The crisis itself can be attributed to the migrant caravan's arrival at the southern border following their journey through Central America, around the same time as the midterm elections.
US President Donald Trump used this opportunity and the publicity surrounding the large migrant group's arrival to issue a new policy called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
This means that those coming to America to seek asylum now need to remain in Mexico while the US processes their application – a country that can be categorized as just as dangerous as the countries the asylum seekers are fleeing, due to drug cartel presence and corruption.
According to CNN, more than 340 reports of rape, kidnapping and other violence have been documented since the MPP policy was formulated, with the returning migrants at the border becoming the obvious victims.
Many of these refugees have traveled to the United States to escape violence and extortion plaguing their home countries, in the hopes of arriving at the border with the opportunity for a second chance at life.
ABC News documented a woman who left El Salvador to come to America after a gang demanded money from her family. When they couldn't pay, the gang asked for her eldest daughter as a trade instead – so they fled.
"What you see in Guatemala is extortionists, rapists, thieves – the government does nothing to stop them," another asylum seeker told CBS News, alluding to the fact that many of these migrants can not even trust their own country to protect them, due to the extended corruption reaching into the government.
There is a major difference between asylum seekers and economic migrants - the  sons of seekers are being recruited into gangs, their daughters forced into sexual servitude, and they believe their lives are in so much danger that they take the risk of traveling to the US-Mexican border only to be told that they need to wait nine months just to start the process.
"Asylum is being scammed; it's a big fat con job folks. Everyone is abusing [asylum]. Totally bogus claims. It's a hoax," are just a few things Trump has said about the American asylum process. "It's ridiculous: You have people coming in claiming asylum, they're all reading exactly what the lawyer gives him. 'I am very afraid for my life, I am afraid for my life,' okay and then I look at the guy, and he looks like he just got out of the ring, and he's the heavyweight champion of the world."
Claiming asylum is an extensive process and one of the hardest ways to get into the United States. They first must make the journey to America without help, then they have to prove that their life is in danger and establish a "credible fear" to the government, and then cross their fingers hoping that America lets them in.
In recent months, the Trump administration passed a law that used to protect these asylum seekers throughout their journey from Latin America into the United States. The new law requires anyone wishing to seek asylum from the southern border to first apply and get rejected in another country along the way before they are allowed to apply for asylum in America.
So why not just seek asylum in neighboring countries?
"Say you live in Honduras and you're a mom with two kids. Gangs are coming to your door demanding more money than you even have, or they threaten they will take your daughters. Local cops are no use, so you're desperate like any parent would be," Hasan Minhaj from Netflix's award-winning Patriot Act said.
"So you head north to Guatemala. But it's also dangerous there, you have the same gang problems and the same threats," he said. "Then you go up to Mexico: same problems, same threats. And then finally, you get to the United States where it is a safe place... but America turns you away. They're like, 'we won't let you apply here, because you didn't apply anywhere else first.' Of course you didn't, those other countries aren't safe."
Many of these countries aren't even equipped to handle the influx of migrant asylum seekers, so while they're waiting for months in these countries, they will continue to be subjected to the same threat of violence they escaped from in their home country.
For example, Guatamela has "as few as four employees handling [asylum] cases" in the country, according to Foreign Affairs. And even if they do gain asylum in one of these countries, it would be little to no better than the environment they were initially attempting to flee.
The reason for the minimum nine-month wait just to start the process is due to metering, a new policy that puts a daily limit on the number of applicants who can claim asylum. In border cities such as Tijuana, normally border patrol agents process around 100 applications per day. But due to the metering put in place by Homeland Security, the border city can only process 20 applications a day, creating a wait list of over 11,000 asylum seekers at just that one location – and there are 55,000 total asylum seekers spread out along the border going through this exact same process.
"We are dealing now with an administration that wants to end asylum, period. [If there would be] fundamental changes in our system during any other year, each one of these changes would be the biggest case we work on. But now there are two, three each month," ACLU's Lee Gelernt told the Patriot Act. The NGO is attempting to fight the US government against these changes in open court. "Every week we are planning another lawsuit, because every week they are doing something horrific."
According to the Patriot Act, "asylum seekers who find lawyers are five times more likely to be granted asylum than those without lawyers. A study found that immigrants in America were able to find lawyers 22.7% of the time and those in Mexico only 1.2%. These are all tactical decisions that Trump has made to make asylum a nightmare."
Asylum is a last ditch effort and something the United States used to champion, especially during and after World War II, when they welcomed in thousands of asylum seekers fleeing war-torn Europe.
The right to apply for Asylum has been law in the US since 1947. In addition, almost every developed country has adopted this system and continues to implement it.
"These victims of war and oppression look hopefully to the democratic countries to help them rebuild their lives and provide for the future of their children," president Truman said in 1947, laying the grounds for what American asylum was meant to be. "We must not destroy their hope. The only civilized course is to enable these people to take new roots in friendly soil."