On May 7, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the justice department will begin to criminally prosecute every person who illegally crosses the border. This hard-line policy has resulted in a reality that much of the American people have been coming to terms with in the past week or so: the forced separation of immigrant children from their parents. To be clear, the current policy says nothing about separating children from parents. Separation is just the typical procedure for criminal prosecutions, which all immigration cases are designated under the new policy.
To be fair, Sessions admitted that separations would occur. Sessions clearly warned all would-be migrants, “If you smuggle an illegal alien across the border, then we’ll prosecute you. . . . If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
Announcements rarely have the impact of images, however, and the public furor over the detainment of children has taken some time to brew. As images and descriptions began being issued by representatives and reporters, public resistance has steadily grown. While liberal ire is to be expected, even some conservative evangelical leaders, typically staunch allies of the current administration, have taken pains to speak out against the current policy and its effects on children.
The “What-About-Them” Game
Of course, there are other segments that have stodgily dug in their heels and played the “what-about-them” game.
First, some early reports of child separations circulated with a 2014 Obama era photo of children sleeping in a cage. Conservative pundits happily pointed this out, noting that separation was an Obama era policy. Zing? Again, to be fair, separations did occur under Obama, but was much less frequent and the separation of families tended to be avoided under Obama-era guidelines. Unlike previous guidelines, the current zero-tolerance policy set by Sessions effectively mandates this separation.
Currently, the conservative line is that this policy is really just the enforcement of a law passed in 1997 (or 2008) by Democrats. Furthermore, Democrats are being so obstructionist, they won’t pass a law to fix it. Gotcha? To be clear, this is just not true. The laws in question refer to the treatment of children once detained, they do not mandate separation of children from parents. Also, Democrats have proposed a law that would end separations, but there are currently no Republican backers.
If you aren’t buying the partisan take, Sessions also wants us to remember what the Good Book says. In defense of the new policy, Sessions took the time to offer a quick Bible lesson on Romans 13 last Thursday. Romans 13:1 admonishes all good Christians to “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…” Boom? Let’s be honest for a moment. In no way is Paul’s guidance meant to advocate for the unethical, forcible separation of children from their parents. I will not take the time to unpack the horrible hermeneutics at play, but if you’d like a Biblical wax on the passage, there are several good ones to read (Also, Sessions’ denomination, the United Methodist Church, is currently contemplating charges over his violation of the Book of Discipline as a result of enacting this policy).
Pointing Fingers Doesn’t End Suffering
Now, I wanted to give a quick review of this to help inform those who might be late to the party, but also to illustrate the impossibly ridiculous partisan tone this debate has fallen into, and to point out that it also leaves out many of the other horrendous immigration decisions that have been made by this administration. For instance, Sessions has ruled that domestic and gang violence are no longer grounds for asylum, and further back, Trump ended Haitian low-skill worker visas, unraveled DACA, and promised to end the visa lottery program, and this is only a quick sampling.
We can point fingers all day about problems. We can look back into the past and play the game of where suffering starts, but these blame games do nothing for those who are being denied the human dignity they deserve. Our entire national history, our road to greatness, is littered with anguish and pain. Yet, no history is an excuse for the present. Our current moment is one in which the status and value of the immigrant is firmly under attack. Immigrants are placed in cages, thrown into legal limbo, have their children stolen from them, and are denied protections. In short, these “illegals,” as some conservative sites like to refer to undocumented immigrants, are no longer afforded human rights. The “what-about-them” game does nothing for this state of moral decrepency.
As citizens of a nation-state, perhaps, there is the lawful ability to deny individuals such rights. The trading of individual freedoms for security and societal gains is part of the bargain. To those who are not full-fledged citizens, our Bill of Rights is not a guarantee of protections. Still, I can find no justifiable way to support any of these policies as a Christian, as a person whose true citizenship is in God’s Kingdom. Within the Christian Bill of Rights, human dignity is assured in the cross of God.
Christ Beside the Golden Door
The criminal prosecution of migrants, the stealing and caging of children, the denial of safety for those fleeing violence, none of these seem to fit the ethic laid out for strangers within the Hebrew Scriptures. Still more, we should all be quaking at the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:45, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. ”
That this saying applies to the immigrant (of any status) should be more than clear. Christ himself was a immigrant child, smuggled into Egypt by his lowly parents. In their flight from oppression of a mad king did they have time to fill out the paperwork? If not, would we tear our king from his mother? Would we deny the holy family their safe asylum?
Engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus” expresses, perhaps, the closest a nation can come to Biblical hospitality. Her poem ends with those epic words,
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Would that America comes close to that ideal again. Until then, I would be satisfied with a Church clear-headed enough to endorse it.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.