"On Sunday, a day we as a nation set aside to honor father and the bonds of family, I was among the millions of Americans who watched images of children who have been torn from their parents. In the six weeks between April 19 and May 31, the Department of Homeland Security has sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers or foster case. More than 100 of these children are younger than 4 years old. The reason for these separations is a zero-tolerance policy for their parents, who are accused of illegally crossing our borders.Sometimes truth transcends party. https://t.co/TeFM7NmNzU— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) June 18, 2018
I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.
Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.
Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents - and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.
People on all sides agree that our immigration system isn't working, but the injustice of zero tolerance is not the answer. I moved away from Washington almost a decade ago, but I know there are good people at all levels of government who can do better to fix this.
Recently, Colleen Kraft, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a shelter run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. She reported that while there were beds, toys, crayons, a playground and diaper changes, the people working at the shelter had been instructed not to pick up or touch the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up a child who is not yet out of diapers.
Twenty-nine years ago, my mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, visited Grandma's House, a home for children with HIV/AIDS in Washington. Back then, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the disease was a death sentence, and most babies born with it were considered 'untouchables.' During her visit, Barbara - who was the first lady at the time - picked up a fussy, dying baby named Donovan and snuggled him against her shoulder to soothe him. My mother-in-law never viewed her embrace of that fragile child as courageous. She simply saw it as the right thing to do in a world that can be arbitrary, unkind, and even cruel. She, who after the death of her 3-year-old daughter knew what it was to lose a child, believed that every child is deserving of human kindness, compassion and love.
In 2018, can we not as a nation foster a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can."
We, the United States of America, are creating a growing humanitarian crisis at the border. To crack down on illegal immigration and to apparently curb any use of claims of "asylum," we have implemented a zero-tolerance policy where everyone who is caught goes to jail. No exceptions. Since it has been determined that we cannot jail children, we are forcibly separating families who are caught, sending the adults to jail and sending any children to a "detention facility." An internment camp. Customs and Border patrol have pulled a nursing child away from her mother's breast. A father has committed suicide after his 3-year old son was taken from him. Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May. The number could be 30,000 by August according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
And of course, our leadership continues to dig in its heels. President Trump blames the Democrats for our current situation. "He's (Jeff Sessions) following laws very simply that were given to us and forced on us by the Democrats. I want the laws to be beautiful, humane but strong." According to President Trump, "I say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault. The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility. Not on my watch." Apparently the President believes that children "are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth" as a way to enter the United States.
Just following the law or enforcing the law has been a recurrent theme.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen rejects any criticism accusing her department of inhuman and immoral actions. "We are doing none of those things. We are enforcing the laws passed by Congress." Don't forget, there were many German's who were just following orders too.
Tellingly, there are no specific law governing this type of enforcement. This particular method of enforcement, in separating children from their families and interning them, is devised entirely by the Trump administration.
But this shouldn't come to a surprise to anyone who has been watching the Trump presidency. This is simply another step in what everyone feared from his campaign. This was always part of the plan for immigration. Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser key in the travel ban, was instrumental in convincing the president to enact the policy.
The worst and most stomach-churning part of this farce has to be the perverse use of the Bible to justify the new enforcement. Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated it was "very biblical to enforce the law." Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 as justification for this enforcement.
"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring your punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."
This section of scripture has been invoked throughout history to justify many atrocities over time. The British Royals used it to chastise rebellious American revolutionaries. Slave owners in early America used this as one of the verses to justify the institution of slavery. Nazis in Germany used it to justify genocide. Supporters used it to justify apartheid in South Africa. Not company that I'm sure we would want to be in.
This passage has been terribly misunderstood to require blind obedience to every authority, no matter the character. The passage actually speaks of what the character of a godly governmental leader would look like and what Christian obedience to those government leaders should look like. The leadership should act like Christ, if they're going to claim to be appointed by God. And this passage is particularly unwise for a leader who has the power to change an unjust law to quote.
Perhaps Jeff Sessions should read a little more of his Bible. Then he might get to
"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless."
He might be surprised to discover the true sin of Sodom and Gomorrah (hint, it was not homosexuality).
"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."
That sounds a lot like America today, doesn't it.
Shoot, maybe he could have just finished the chapter in Romans.
"Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
Maybe he might pay attention to the actual need for asylum and then he might rethink his changes. To put back in protection for domestic violence and gang violence victims. To understand that 'credible fear' should be determined by a judge, not a screener. That such a claim should be taken seriously and weighed heavily.
For asylum and sanctuary are policies that are biblical. Asylum is a theme throughout the entirety of scripture. Jesus was an immigrant and a refugee. His genealogy includes to immigrant heroes in Rahab and Ruth.
"You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt."
He might even get more concerned when he reads about the care that should be given to children.
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
"Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me."
We have a lot to answer for.
After all, who do you think Jesus would side with? The fellow immigrant seeking shelter and asylum, or those that had no room at their inn. The "leper" or the "untouchable," or the one deeming them so. Those abused by power, or the one abusing its power.
I'm with our former First Ladies. This isn't political. Truth goes far beyond that. We can and should do better.