Where Are Our Better Angels?

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Emma Lazarus’ words, engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, are a reminder that the United States is a land of immigrants. We shouldn’t need a reminder that our nation was founded by immigrants escaping political and religious persecution. Those immigrants, like the ones crossing our borders today, were looking for safety and opportunity. Our founding documents enunciate the principle that “all men are created equal.” So, how did we arrive at the cruel, sinister, and inhumane immigration policy known as “zero tolerance?”

On April 6, 2018, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions announced that, without exception, all persons illegally crossing the Southwest Border of the United States would be subject to criminal prosecution. The policy applies to ALL persons, including those seeking political asylum, and includes a provision that mandates the separation of parents and children. Adults are immediately jailed pending criminal prosecution and their children are removed and placed in detention pending assignment to foster care or “whatever.”

Attorney General Sessions explained that the separation policy is intended as a deterrant message to others planning to cross the border illegally.

On hearing the story, I was reminded of the plight of Romanian orphans under the murderous and abusive Communist regime of Nicolai Ceausescu. Of course, that situation was different from the one now facing America, but the effect on children separated from their parents is destined to be the same if it is not reversed. Children separated, isolated, and warehoused are destined to be damaged whether it’s Romania or America. Infants and toddlers suffer from sensory deprivation and older children have attachment and abandonment anxiety issues. Those Americans with a memory of what happened in Romania will recall how outraged we Americans were and how generous we were in arranging adoptions of these defenseless orphans.

“Zero tolerance” is so cruel, inhumane, and racist it’s hard to imagine it’s the official immigration policy of the American government. How would Attorney General Sessions react if his children or grandchildren were forcibly taken away from the family? What are Christian conservatives or conservative Christians thinking? Whatever happened to the Golden Rule? There is surely a humane way to deal with immigration, even illegal immigration, that does not involve separating families and imprisoning parents.

Two weeks ago, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), attempted to visit a child detention facility in Brownsville, TX to educate himself on the policy. Merkley’s staff had asked permission to visit the facility earlier in the week, but their request was unanswered. Border Patrol agents turned him away from the child detention center when he requested entry.

The senator’s best guess was that roughly 1000 children are being detained at the former Walmart store in Brownsville but he was denied entry and not given information regarding the detainees.

Yesterday (June 13), in an unusual instance of candor, the Department of Health and Human Services released a video of the the interior of the Brownsville facility while reporting that 1500 children being held at the euphemistically named Casa Padre. Nevertheless, Casa Padre is only one of 100 similar detention facilities scattered around the US. It is estimated that 11,200 children are being held in such facilities, although, to be clear, only a small portion of those are children recently taken from their parents at the border.

Locally, Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal visited a Bureau of Prisons facility near Sea-Tac airport where she met with 174 immigrant women being held there. Most were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence, or domestic abuse. Two days ago, overturning a precedent set during the Obama administration, Sessions announced that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence would not be considered for asylum. These are endangered human beings living in dangerous lawless countries. Where is our compassion?

Many of the women Jayapal spoke with had their children taken away when they asked for asylum. The first step in making a case for asylum is a “credible fear” hearing to determine if the applicant qualifies for asylum status. The hearing is to be held as soon as possible after apprehension, but several of the women had been in prison for over a month without such a hearing.

Of the 174 women Jayapal talked with, roughly 40% had children forcibly taken from them at the border and still knew nothing about their children’s whereabouts. It’s not clear how many of these children are in detention facilities or have been placed in foster care, but in 2017 the government acknowledged that they were unable to account for 1475 migrant children it had placed with sponsors.

I haven’t read it, but historian Jon Meacham has a new book called The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. As an admirer of Meacham’s it sounds uplifting, and I can use a little uplift these days. Maybe he can clarify how the soul of America condones and justifies OUR government taking children from parents. This is cruel, inhumane, un-American, and dead wrong. It brings back thoughts of Abu-Gharaib – another despicable American tragedy. Our better angels need to get to work. I have zero tolerance for the zero-tolerance policy.


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