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A Burden Lifted

This is an update from Christian Legal Clinics of Philadelphia (CLCP), a faith-based non-profit whose predecessor I helped found years ago.

CLCP is a legal ministry serving the poor of Philadelphia.  (Additional information on Christian legal aid can be found above.)  Please, pray for this worthy cause and consider donating, if you can.

“Matt and Deborah have been embedded in North Philly this summer through the InterVarsity Gateway program working for CLCP as our summer interns.  Deborah is from New Orleans and will be a junior this fall at Villanova…Matt is from Scranton and will also be a junior this fall…[He] is studying actuarial science at Temple…

Matt and Deborah got to experience our clinics where Deborah who is also fluent in Spanish helped as a translator.  Deborah shared how she has learned that ‘God can use [her] identity as a First Generation Latina in the U.S. to participate in His mission of justice by working as an interpreter and breaking language barriers alongside incredible people seeking justice with the love of God.’

Matt was surprised to discover that not all consultations have a happy solution.  He has seen how messy situations can be and how the lawyers seek to make the best of a bad situation,..[H]e has learned…how many things there are to consider involving the client.  He was encouraged ‘watching clients come into clinics with desperation and hopelessness, and then watching them walk out with a burden lifted from their shoulders.’ Read more…


He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 17 NIV).

Wikipedia describes laminin as a class of proteins comprising the extracellular matrix, molecules providing structural and biochemical support to the surrounding cells.


Urban Poverty and the Vanishing Middle Class

 Abandoned factory, Detroit, MI

Image courtesy of Seph Lawless, author of “Autopsy of America”,

There is a growing divide between rich and poor in this nation.  Caught in that divide is a vanishing middle class.

Median income levels in Bridgeport and Stamford, CT – cities just 22 miles apart – reflect the disparity.  Bridgeport’s median stands at $41,050.  Stamford’s is five times higher at $205,688 [1].

Lost Manufacturing Jobs

A large part of the reason is the decrease in manufacturing jobs.  Both automation and corporate relocation overseas have played a role in this.

As of June 2016, the average wage for manufacturing jobs in the United States was $64,400.  This compares favorably with an average wage of $48,700 for all occupations [2].

Map of United States showing “Rust Belt” states in red, Source Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

But as many as 7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost since the 1980s [3].  Metropolitan areas in the “Rust Belt” (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York) have been particularly hard hit [4].

Today, many of the technical jobs that remain require advanced training or a college degree.  Alternative positions as home health aides, cashiers and retail sales personnel, housekeepers, child care workers, and food servers are among the lowest paid [5].

Urban Poverty

A. Detroit, MI

Once the nation’s auto manufacturing hub, Michigan has lost 83,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years.  Detroit followed Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy [6].  The per capita income there in 2016 was $15,562.  The poverty rate is 39.4%.

B. Hartford, CT

Nicknamed the “Insurance Capital of the World”, Hartford was the wealthiest city in the nation following the Civil War.  But it has fallen on hard times since the 1990s.  The per capita income in 2016 was $18,365.  The poverty rate is 31.9%.

C. Rochester, NY

Formerly known as “Kodak Town”, Rochester, too, suffers from the drain of manufacturing jobs.  The per capita income in 2016 was $19,830.  The poverty rate is 32.8%.

Mayor, Lovely Warren, explains the situation this way:

“Many of the executives and the upper management that worked in…larger companies, they lived in the suburbs.  The people that lived in the city were those individuals that worked on the line…When manufacturing left…the decline in the inner-city, in those families losing their income and having to struggle, and then the next generation under them not having…a manufacturing floor to go into, became greater [7].”

Read more…

Miracle Baby

Roman Dinkel is a 2 y.o. boy with myelomeningocele, a congenital defect of the backbone and spinal cord.

The majority of children diagnosed with this severe form of spina bifida are terminated before birth.  At 25 weeks of gestation, however, Roman had surgery while still in the womb.  His parents were cautioned not to expect too much from the surgery.  But Roman is today able to walk with the aid of crutches.

His joy is infectious.

[1]  CBS News, “2 year-old who overcame the odds and learned to walk inspires millions” by Jeff Glor, 8/8/18,


Wealth and Safety

Gold bars. Author Stevebidmead. Source (CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

The world is not a safe place.

We may, at times, delude ourselves about that.  We may make material things our security blanket, convince ourselves that wealth and luxury translate into safety.  We may view self-assurance and independence as guarantees of success, confuse the strength God has lent us for our own.

But there will always be circumstances to teach us the foolishness of this.  Celebrities may have the means to buy mansions.  But despite his bank account, the rich man can lose a son.  Despite her jewels, the rich woman will grow old.  In the end, neither will escape death and judgment.

Worldly security is false.  It is temporary.  When we rely on it – especially to the detriment of those less fortunate – we miss out on God’s offer of real security.  And we misuse God’s gifts. Read more…

Refugee, Part 3

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing unaccompanied minors at Texas border, Author Hector Silva, Source CBP (PD as work product of federal govt.)

You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22: 21).

A nation unquestionably has the right to maintain its borders.  There is an acknowledged distinction between illegal immigrants and legal refugees.  And the threat of terrorism is both real and substantial.

But there are issues related to immigration which have nothing to do with political affiliation or party loyalty, and everything to do with morality and adherence to law.


Both the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and the US Refugee Act of 1980 provide that applicants for asylum are not to be returned to a place where their life or freedom is at risk [1A][2].

Forcible return (known as “refoulement”) is against international law.  Unlike political asylum, which applies only to those with a well-grounded fear of persecution, non-refoulement prohibits the return of any and all asylum seekers to war zones and disaster areas.

Despite that, Human Rights First has documented at least 125 cases in which Border Patrol agents unlawfully turned asylum seekers away without a hearing (some individuals many times over) [3A].

Other refugees are acknowledged to have been repatriated to countries with ongoing civil wars and/or extended disruptions in police protection [4A][8].

Penalizing Illegal Entry in Search of Asylum

Refugees must be at the border to apply for asylum; the law does not permit them to apply from a distance.

For that reason, the UN Refugee Convention expressly forbids parties like the United States from imposing penalties on refugees for irregular entry, if they present themselves to the authorities without delay [1B].  This is commonly interpreted to mean that illegal entry should not to be prosecuted.

In fact, the Board of Immigration Appeals (the highest immigration tribunal) has since 1987 consistently instructed immigration judges to forgive irregular entry [3B].

The Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy under which anyone who crosses the United States border will be prosecuted, therefore, flies in the face of settled law [5A].

Changing the Standard

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unilaterally changed the standard for asylum in two respects.

Sessions eliminated gender-based asylum claims (for instance, claims related to genital cutting) from consideration altogether; and raised the standard for asylum to require that an applicant’s home not only be unwilling or unable to protect him or her from harm, but that the government condone persecution by non-state actors [3].  This is a far higher standard of proof.

Separating Parents and Children

The United States has as many 10,000 children in detention – holding them at Dept. of Health & Human Services shelters an average of 56 days [6].

Typically, children who enter the country alone (“unaccompanied minors”) are released once a parent or guardian is properly identified [13].  Instead, some 3000 children were separated from their families at the border [4B][12]. Read more…

Refugee, Part 2

Aspiring migrant from Mexico into US at Tijuana-San Diego border. The crosses represent the deaths of failed attempts. Author Tomas Castelazo, copyright (c) Tomas Castelazo, (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

However dire their economic situation may be, there is a critical distinction between migrants who illegally cross the border of the United States in search of employment, and refugees who legally present at the border seeking asylum on humanitarian grounds.  Those legally seeking asylum have violated no laws.

Building on the Past

Built on the earlier Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted at the close of WWII, the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is a multilateral treaty which defines what it means to be a refugee, and outlines the rights of individuals granted asylum [1][2][3].

“Refugee Defined”

The Refugee Convention defines a “refugee” as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Limitation on Number of Refugees

The US Refugee Act of 1980 uses a similar definition, laying out explicit procedures for how to deal with refugees and setting a limit of 50,000 refugees/fiscal year (roughly 1 refugee/6500 Americans).

Together, the Refugee Convention, a subsequent 1967 Protocol which expanded its geographic and temporal reach, and the US Refugee Act of 1980 govern those legally seeking asylum [4A].  The United States, also, in 1977 signed (then in 1992 ratified) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving it the status of federal law [8A]. Read more…

Refugee, Part 1

Displaced persons and refugees in Hamburg, Germany (1945), Author Sgt. J. Mapham, 5th Army, Film & Photographic Unit, Source Imperial War Museum, WWII Collection (PD as work of UK govt.)


Noun – A condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger or trouble.


Noun – The protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a political refugee.

From 1933 to 1941, the Nazi Regime pursued a policy of forced emigration against Jews, though Jews had lived in Germany for over 1000 years [1A][2].

More than 340,000 Jews fled Germany and Austria during this time.  Tragically, 100,000 of these refugees ultimately became victims of the Holocaust, having fled to European nations the Nazis shortly conquered.

Voyage of the St. Louis

Between March 1938 and September 1939, around 85,000 Jewish refugees managed to reach the United States.  They were not welcomed with open arms.

In one infamous incident, the United States refused entry to some 900 Jewish passengers on the St. Louis, a ship out of Hamburg, Germany.  With no other option, the St. Louis returned to Europe.  Some 40% of the St. Louis’ passengers later died in concentrations camps.

Due to national security concerns, the United States placed further restrictions on immigration in 1941.

The “Final Solution”

Then, in November 1942, American papers published news of the Nazis’ so called “Final Solution”.

As a result, the United States, Great Britain, and 10 other nations jointly issued a Declaration of Atrocities on December 17, 1942 [3A].  While this Declaration threatened punishment for Nazi horrors, it made no provision for refugees. Read more…

Suicide – To Be or Not To Be

Suicide prevention sign at Golden Gate Bridge, Author Tony Webster (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

  • 22.5 million American adults have been diagnosed with cancer; 1.7 million will be added to that number this year alone [1].
  • Over 16 million Americans suffer from depression.  PTSD affects another 7.7 million [2].
  • More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease [3].
  • 500,000 American adults and children have cerebral palsy [4].
  • Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, annually [5].
  • Over 20,000 Americans live with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).  Some 15 new cases are diagnosed daily [6].

Millions of Americans either suffer from, or serve as caregivers for loved ones with, a chronic illness.

There are those who argue that this is pointless and unnecessary suffering – physical and mental – which suicide could easily eliminate.  The suicide rate in the United States is, in fact, on the rise [7].  Designer, Kate Spade, and celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, were two recent examples.

Yet many sufferers choose not to take that path.  Why?

The Right to Take Our Lives

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

-Albert Camus

The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, argued that man has an unassailable right to his own person.  Christians, however, take a different view.  We believe that title to our hearts, minds, and bodies belongs to God.

We may despair in the lonely hours of the night.  Christians are not immune from that human tendency.

The thought of suicide may – as Friedrich Nietzsche observed – be a consolation at such moments.  Suicide is, however, a poor solution to the dilemma of existence in a flawed world.

A So Called “Noble” Choice

“To be, or not to be?  That is the question – Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them?”

-William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Shakespeare posed the now famous question of whether it is “nobler” to endure suffering or end it.

Our society sees no value in suffering; tends to view suffering, itself, as immoral.  We may come to despise this flesh, and the ailments to which it is prone.  But to equate death with virtue is to mask reality.

Life is a priceless gift.  Human beings have value, whether they are physically and mentally “perfect” or not.

Anger at God

“Suicide is man’s way of telling God, ‘You can’t fire me – I quit.’ ”

-Bill Maher, comedian

The novelist, Honore de Balzac, called suicide a “suitable key to the mystery of life for a skeptical society.”  Certainly, those who pursue it – believers and non-believers alike – will rapidly find themselves face to face with an Almighty God, all questions about His existence resolved.

Admittedly, anger may figure in the decision to commit suicide.  We may feel we have reached the limits of our endurance, and blame God for the trials which have besieged us.

Certainly, illness can deprive us of dignity.  It need not, however, deprive us of hope. Read more…

Cash Crop – Child Labor on the Farm

Children threshing corn during school hours (1915), Library of Congress National Child Labor Committee Collection (Digital ID nclc.00246), Author Hine, Lewis Wickes (PD, life plus 70)

“Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the nation.  Each year, more than 2 million youth under the age of 20 are exposed to farm-related safety hazards.  As a result, a significant number of young people are killed, injured or permanently disabled on farms in the United States.”

-OSHA [1]

About 13.4 million children live in rural America [2].

As a group, rural children have somewhat lower rates of poverty than their urban cousins [3].  The median income of rural households is only slightly less than that of urban households ($52,386 as compared with $54,296).  By comparison, a higher percentage of rural homes are mortgage-free (44% as compared with 32.3%).

However, the Fair Labor Standards Act allows farms to employ children as young as 12 y.o. with the written permission of a parent (or if a parent is employed on the same farm) [4A].

Child Labor on the Farm

The Child Labor Coalition of the National Consumers League estimates there are 300,000 to 400,000 child workers in U.S. agriculture.  The highly lucrative tobacco industry, in particular, benefits from this.

Children of any age can work on the farm of a parent or guardian [4B].  Those 12 y.o. and younger need not be paid minimum wage, but are not permitted to work during the school day.  Those 16 y.o. may work for an unlimited number of hours, even at tasks considered hazardous, like operating a hay baler.

Unfortunately, enforcement of these standards is largely absent.  Violations are not closely monitored and rarely penalized.  Children as young as 8 y.o. and 10 y.o. can be found working beside men in their 30s and 40s. Read more…