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Friday, December 3, 2021

Border policy unacceptable for ‘nation of immigrants’

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When my older daughter was 3 or 4, she and I got separated while I was shopping at the mall. I searched frantically, finding her in another area that was not very far away. Though we were apart for only a few minutes, it felt like an eternity. That day I became a “helicopter parent” — or as I like to say — a “Black Hawk parent.” (Black Hawks are military helicopters that are often heavily weaponized.) That was about 27 years ago, but it left a permanent impression on me.  

Though that incident was traumatic for both of us, it doesn’t come close to the excruciating pain that thousands of parents and children are experiencing today. I’m referring to parents and children who have entered the United States without proper documentation (i.e., “illegally”). The Trump Administration has embarked upon a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding people who enter the U.S. illegally. The policy includes separating children from their parent(s) at the border, with no guarantee that they will be reunited. (This policy is meant to be a deterrent to illegal immigration.) The Department of Homeland Security recently confirmed that nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents between April 19 and May 31 of this year. (One immigrant mother has claimed that her child was taken from her as she breastfed.) 

Further, the Trump Administration is charging most of these adults with a criminal offense, whereas this has been a civil offense under previous administrations. In other words, what was formerly treated as if it were a traffic violation is now being treated as if it were selling illegal drugs. President Trump has repeatedly blamed the Democratic Party for creating the law that has resulted in this change. That claim is false. The fact is that President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have the legal discretion to decide whether to separate children from their parents. At this point, they have chosen to continue the policy of doing so — with Sessions going so far as to use the Bible in defending it. 

Democrats have vocally condemned the new policy of separating children from their parents. Recently, some Republicans have begun to do likewise. Further, a few evangelical leaders and organizations — who represent some of President Trump’s staunchest supporters — have publicly called for this policy to end. It is not clear that such is going to happen in the near future.

It is important to note that this new reality is in line with at least two other recent changes to the nation’s immigration policies. One is that Attorney General Sessions has decided that people (mostly women) who are fleeing domestic violence in their home country will no longer be allowed to seek asylum in the U.S. The other is that President Trump promised to severely reduce legal immigration to the U.S. Last year he stated his intention to reduce the number of legal immigrants entering the country to 45,000 in 2018 – which is substantially less than the 110,000 immigrants that President Obama approved for 2017. (All presidents consult with the Congress in determining the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country each fiscal year.) In short, President Trump’s overall goal is to severely restrict the number of immigrants who enter the United States, whether illegally or legally.  

Our nation is embroiled in a war that centers on defining — and living out — who we are as a people. An epic battle in this war concerns how we interpret and enforce our immigration laws. One often hears the phrase, “we are a nation of immigrants.” It appears that, pretty soon, this affirmation may need to be revised to “we are a nation of fewer and fewer immigrants.” We must decide as a nation whether xenophobia is a value for which we want to be known. We must decide whether America will be a “shining city on a hill,” or a valley of despair. I know where I stand. Do you?

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