If you’ve kept up with me on Facebook over the past couple of weeks, you’ll notice that I’ve been actively engaged in the conversation surrounding immigration. In particular, the zero-tolerance policy of the Trump Administration and its initial separation of children from their parents. While I’ve seen my friend list decrease a bit, for the most part, the conversations have been productive and informative (I hope).
A friend recently asked if I’d consider compiling my comments into a single post that would list the questions I’ve been addressing. So, in no particular order, here are those questions and my best attempts at answering them from the perspective of a concerned citizen and concerned Christian.
Q: Why are you speaking up about this now? Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama were separating families. Why are you calling out Trump and Sessions now?
A: It is my responsibility as a pastor to respond when the Bible is misused and misapplied. Session’s reference to Romans 13 contained incomplete and misleading information that needed to be corrected.
I cannot speak to the Clinton administration. I was in high school/college and was just not paying attention. I haven’t researched the immigration policies of the Clinton administration enough to comment yet, but I’ll do my homework on that.
I’m not sure it’s productive to deflect the concerns over what is happening now by comparing it to what previous administrations did. If it was wrong in the past, then we should correct the practices and learn from the errors. However, while the policies of Bush and Obama were certainly not without their flaws and controversy, it is simply not true that previous administrations were doing the same thing then that Trump is doing now.
The Trump administration’s current approach is modeled after Operation Streamline, a 2005 program under the Bush administration. The key difference from Trump’s policy is that while Bush’s program referred all illegal immigrants for prosecution, it made exceptions for adults traveling with children. The Obama administration retained these exceptions, while also beginning to prosecute those who’d been deported previously.
Even then, however, separation of families was rare. The cases of separation were connected to extenuating circumstances including doubts as to whether the accompanying adults were the child’s parents. If separation was discovered for other reasons, courts worked to quickly reunite families affected, even if the adult had to be released from being detained.
There are other significant differences between Bush/Obama and Trump. The decision to prosecute first-time crossers is completely new and exclusive to the current administration. The biggest and most disturbing one is that while separations were the exception in Bush/Obama’s policies, they are the deliberate initiative in Trump’s. By the admission of his own staff, the separation of children is being used as a power move, making these children political pawns; something both Bush and Obama had the option to do, but they had the moral clarity not to do.
Q: They should all be sent home together to try to enter the Legal way. Problem solved no separation needed. If they truly want to immigrate and assimilate they would do it the correct way.
A: Even families presenting themselves for asylum (which is legal) are being separated and treated like criminals. I agree with laws being followed, but the current system’s laws are maddeningly complicated, contradictory, and are frequently changing in details that make even a clerical error grounds for denial. It creates an unjust environment. We can’t pick and choose laws, but we also can’t ignore when laws, policies, and processes are so broken they cause harm to the very people they are created to help.
Maybe this illustration will help. I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles recently to get my Real ID (It’s a New Mexico thing). There is a very simple and clear set of instructions for what people need to provide. I was the only person in line to make it past the first window because the others didn’t have the right documentation. These were English speaking people working from an easily accessible and straightforward process … and they struggled with it. They were losing their minds in anger and frustration over an easy process. But we want others to “follow the law.” Making that statement only reveals a lack of awareness of just how complicated current immigration law actually is. Here’s a link to a chart that shows the confusing system we have in place. https://immigrationroad.com/green-card/immigration-flowchart-roadmap-to-green-card.php
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION – 7/11/18: A conversation with a friend recently shed more light on my answer to this question, and helped me see an incomplete assumption in part of my answer. While my answer highlighted the impossibly complicated nature of the current process, I did not include how our current process leaves out the possibility of citizenship for many people. To quote my source; we’ll call them “M.A.”:
“There really are only three ways to attempt to immigrate to the US legally. (1) Be sponsored by a family member who is already in the US legally. (2) Be sponsored by an employer. (3) Seek asylum. That’s it. (There is the diversity visa process, but those are reserved for folks from countries that do not traditionally seek to come here. So, folks from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, for example, are not eligible.) My point is that for so, so many people, there is no line to get in. There is no legal way to come to the US. Your comments indicate that the “legal way” might be impossibly difficult. I might agree with you, except that unless you have a family member or employer to sponsor you, there is no legal way.”
This is a point very well made, and well-taken by me. M.A.’s point solidifies what an oversimplification it is when someone suggests that immigrants, “just do it the legal way.”
Q: Where does it say in the Bible that we should push our own countrymen aside for those from a foreign nation?
A: The Bible actually does not teach the notion of mistreating citizens for the sake of foreigners, nor does it condone mistreating foreigners for the benefit of citizens. The Bible calls God’s people to love our neighbors and come to the aid of the stranger, the fatherless, the poor and the widow.
Q: How can all these children be separated from their parents when so many of them are “unaccompanied minors?”
A: Thanks to my friend, Erika, for this info: “There is a way the current process designated children as unaccompanied minors that skews the reports. There are Federal Laws in place that protects children that cross the border. Whenever they are no longer with guardians or if they crossed on their own initiative, or perhaps with a sibling group of different ages but again there is no guardian, they are considered “unaccompanied minors”. Federal Law mandates that all “unaccompanied minors” be put into protective custody like foster care for those aged 0 to 12 or special youth facilities within 72 hrs of entry and detainment. This is so that they do not have to be placed with adults and thereby be put at higher risk while awaiting their Immigration hearing. (This would be for those that cross with no documentation or those that are asylum seekers).
Historically, families were not separated. They would be allowed to be together. This law was just for those not traveling with their adult family members.
Now, with this new zero-tolerance policy from Jeff Sessions, the system requires that even parents with children be separated. This means that now all of these children with guardians have been made “unaccompanied minors” in the eyes of the law. So, although the zero-tolerance policy is not a law, the effects of this policy put the children into a different classification as “unaccompanied minors” because they have been forcibly removed from their parent(s). The system now has to process these separated children, in the same way, they would have to process any unaccompanied minor… but due to this policy, the 72 hr window (which is part of the Federal Law I mentioned) is hard to enforce because the numbers of those now considered “unaccompanied minors” are so much higher than were anticipated, or so it seems. So, the policy in itself could be creating a legal contradiction with a current Federal Law set in place for the protection of these children… let alone the question of the morality of family separation and the strong evidence of long-term trauma that stems from these events and the events that would have led up to them even making the journey to the US in the first place.”
Q: Doesn’t the Bible tell us to obey the law?
A: There are parallel teachings. On one hand, we are called to obey laws insofar as they do not violate the higher laws of God. For example, Jesus instructs his followers to pay their taxes, and Paul and Peter call Christians to live as good citizens (again, only to the extent there is no conflict with God’s law) and even to pray for leaders (in Peter’s case, that would have been Nero). On the other hand, the Bible is very clear in allowing for disobedience and even subversion of laws that violate God’s Word. In the same passage where Jesus calls for people to render unto Caesar,” he also undercuts and denies the title of deity that Caesar had printed on the coins. Hebrew midwives consciously disobey Pharaoh’s Law to kill babies, and the early church was breaking the law when they refused to proclaim “Caesar is Lord.”
Most striking to me is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, wherein Jesus answers the question, “who is my neighbor?” The Priest and Levite who pass by the wounded man are obeying the ceremonial law in doing so. The Samaritan is breaking the ceremonial law by touching a person who appeared dead. Jesus commends the Samaritan and condemns the Priest and Levite. Our allegiance is to Christ and his Kingdom above country, culture, custom, or code.
Q: So being a good Christian means that we should let anyone into our country and do away with borders?
A: No. One doesn’t have to jump to the conclusion that lawlessness is the answer to unjust laws. Instead, we work toward laws that are protective, but not oppressive. Law and order are good things. What’s being critiqued in Trump’s policy is the manner by which current laws and policies are being enforced, as well as the problematic nature of the current system itself.
Q: If it’s morally wrong to separate immigrant children from their parents for an illegal crime why is not morally wrong to separate our US children from their parents when they commit a crime? Isn’t it all the same?
A: First, due to the zero-tolerance policy activated by the President & AG, people who present themselves for asylum are being treated the same as those who enter illegally, so the practice itself is indiscriminate in its execution. I agree that our laws should be obeyed and enforced. However, the laws surrounding our immigration system are maddeningly complicated, often contradictory, and constantly changing. My friends serving on Both the US Border Patrol and in the immigration legal system openly talk about how unnecessarily complicated the various processes are (see the flowchart in the link). Now, I don’t think someone should be able to just stroll into the country with no vetting, but the broken nature of the current system creates an oppressive and unjust environment.
Second, those committing a crime in the United States would be citizens, and therefore, eligible for rights not available to non-citizens.
Third, the children of inmates are often placed with next of kin relatives who are also citizens and live in a home environment, rather than a holding facility.
Fourth, those children have access to visitation and can communicate with their parents. The inmate parents can also communicate with their children. So, while both scenarios result in the tragedy of the parent and child being separated, the current policy on the border creates a moral dilemma when the factors of an unjust legal code, indiscriminate execution of said code, where, and with whom children are placed, and the overall problem with children being used as political bargaining chips at all.
Q: You’ve said in several posts that “this is happening in my own backyard.” I live here too, so why does it matter that it is in our own backyard?
A: Because this issue being experienced right here in the borderland, us locals are able to have first-hand information. I think the proximity to us matters because of how accessible the sites are for us to personally observe, become informed, and appropriately intervene. For example, I was talking to someone yesterday who believed I was lying when I said that military Veterans are among those being deported. My access to the Deported Veterans Support House in Juarez, and the personal relationship I have with folks who serve there were necessary for the person I spoke with to even entertain what I was saying. In addition, I think our proximity increases our responsibility to both be the most informed and the most involved.
I think one of the biggest threats to the credibility, integrity, and gospel witness to borderland churches is how we will respond to this cultural moment. I recall a story from WW2 when a Protestant church located near railroad tracks failed to resist and oppose the mistreatment and murder of Jews. When the trains carrying Jews to the Concentration camps would rumble by their church during Sunday services, they would stand and sing hymns in order to drown out the sound of the trains. The current situation is admittedly not at those levels of injustice, but these are acts of injustice toward the vulnerable, so the principle stands. Those of us with the ability to speak and act have the responsibility to speak and act, especially when the action is happening just a few miles from us.
Q: What is the solution?? Easy to point fingers and say ‘injustice’ but with no solution proposed sounds a lot like the news media with a whole lot of talk and no action.
A: I think the conversation we’re having in our country right now is central to the solution. We have to converse, dialogue, debate, and communicate in order to clarify the nature of the problem. Otherwise, we’ll just add more layers to an already convoluted system. The tough part is that our nation is so polarized that we can’t even reach clarity on whether or not separating families is really a problem.
Q: Isn’t separating families is the result of the parents’ criminal act?
A: Families are not being separated as a result of their “criminal act”. Families are being separated by the “zero tolerance” policy enacted officially by Jeff Sessions in May, although there were cases of this last fall as well. The zero tolerance refers to all border crossers, regardless of whether they crossed illegally, as you mentioned, or if they are seeking asylum or are refugees… The latter two being completely legal.
Q: I heard you say that Trump’s policy is unconstitutional. Where are you getting that?
The Fifth Amendment states that “no person … shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
The issue of due process is at the heart of many immigration cases, including Reno v. Flores, the 1993 Supreme Court case that has returned to the spotlight with the surge in family separations. The case led to an agreement requiring the government to release children to their parents, a relative or a licensed program within 20 days. In the ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “it is well established that the Fifth Amendment entitles aliens to due process of law in deportation proceedings.”
Cristina Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School, recently observed, “Most of the provisions of the Constitution apply on the basis of personhood and jurisdiction in the United States.” Many parts of the Constitution use the term “people” or “person” rather than “citizen.” Rodriguez said those laws apply to everyone physically on U.S. soil, whether or not they are a citizen. As a result, many of the basic rights, such as the freedom of religion and speech, the right to due process and equal protection under the law apply to citizens and noncitizens.