informal essays

A Conversation On Immigrant Family Separation

“Man, I am really upset about this family separation thing. Every time I think about a four year old being ripped out of their mother’s arms, taken somewhere they don’t know anybody and have no idea when they’ll see them again, it just breaks my heart. It makes me angry that our government would do this. It makes me really upset that Republicans are supposed to be the party of ‘family values’ and they’re defending this, and Trump has the gall to say, oh it’s so horrible but it’s a Democrat law, when it’s totally Jeff Session’s new zero-tolerance policy!”

“Ok, it’s really sad that these families have to be separated, but… it’s more complicated than that. Look at that policy – there’s nothing in there about family separation. They’re just trying to enforce the law – it’s illegal to cross our borders without permission.”

“Oh, they knew exactly what they were doing. They said family separation was intentionally done as a deterrence! I’m sure there’s plenty of other cruel things we could do as a ‘deterrence’ – but the ends don’t justify the means! Besides, you’re allowed to claim asylum – that’s legal – and there’s no law that you have to separate families while they’re processing those claims – that’s a choice!”

“They’re not allowed to detain kids with parents more than 20 days, thanks to this consent decree from 1997, when Clinton was president… Maybe that’s what Trump meant – give him a break – this stuff is complicated. And you’re supposed to claim asylum at official locations… What happens is people just cross and get caught and go, oh, asylum, asylum, and then Obama would just release families and say, come back for your court date, and they’d just disappear. That’s foolish.”

“Well, maybe so, but it’s not like the government makes it easy. Do you know how many official locations there are, or where they are? The President gets a pass on not understanding the complexity of the system but immigrants fleeing for their lives are supposed to navigate it all perfectly? Do you even know anyone who’s actually come across to claim asylum?”

“No… Do you?”

“Well, no, but I read this article about a Honduran mother who crossed with her kids… It said she was being targeted by hit men in Honduras who had killed several of her family… She crossed and purposefully flagged down the Border Patrol to claim asylum and they were like, actually, we’re prosecuting you criminally and separating you from your kids! I mean, sure, people may take advantage of the system, but there are also lots of people whose lives are seriously in danger… and now we’re like, hey, let’s add this super cruel trauma on top of all the cruel dangers you’ve already been facing. Did you listen to the audio of the little kids crying for Mama and Papa… How can it not break your heart that we’re doing this?”

“Look, I know it sounds cruel. It’s really tragic. I wish we didn’t have to do stuff like this. But we separate children from parents all the time in this country when their parents break the law. These immigrants are breaking the law by entering illegally – it’s not really any different.”

“I think it’s way different! When American citizens go to jail, their children aren’t usually being detained somewhere else – at least they’re with other family members they know and trust. And the parents and children know where each other are, and how to visit and communicate, and when they’ll be back together again. These immigrants are just being torn apart with no contact or knowledge of anything… that’s gotta be complete terror for these children!”

“You know, if they choose to be deported, they won’t be separated – that’s a choice, too! So is coming here in the first place – choosing to bring their children through all these risks and then breaking the law and entering illegally. I can’t imagine doing that and getting upset at the consequences. If they want to come, they should come here legally.”

“Yeah, but… it’s more complicated than that. Have you ever driven past the speed limit because of an emergency? Did you need to be separated from your children for breaking that law? These people are fleeing for their lives, it’s not as simple as just ‘choosing’ to stay in their dangerous places, or go back to them.. Do you think people travel hundreds of dangerous miles with their children for fun? I can’t even imagine what it’d be like to be in such a terrible situation where you feel like trying to get to the United States is the best and safest option you have for your children… Besides, who says the consequences have to be so cruel? Asylum is a legal part of our process! And if you want people to come legally, shouldn’t you advocate for making the legal immigration system easier?”

“Ok, it’s all a very sad situation, but come on, it’s not like we have room for everybody in the world here. Those bleeding heart liberals hate to admit reality, but we just can’t help everybody. Why is the burden always on us, anyway? A lot of these immigrants are traveling from Central America all the way through Mexico to get here. Why isn’t anyone talking about why Mexico won’t take them?”

“That’s a good point, I wish there wasn’t so much burden on us, but I don’t see how that excuses our own mistreatment… I know with that Honduran mother, she said the hit men followed her into Mexico, so she didn’t feel safe there, either. Besides, don’t you think this is the greatest country in the world? The land of unparalleled opportunity? Shouldn’t we be proud of the fact that people want to come here for a shot at that?”

“If we didn’t have laws, this country wouldn’t be the great country that everybody wants to move to in the first place. At the end of the day, we have these laws. We have to enforce them.”

“But what if the laws are unjust? If enforcing your law means you take super oppressed people and oppress them further by ripping their families apart – and creating this big government bureaucracy of a day care – which sounds like the kind of thing conservatives are always saying government is terrible at, by the way – don’t you think maybe that’s a clue that there’s a problem in your laws somewhere? I’m not talking about letting anybody and everybody in. I’m just talking about not being oppressive and cruel about it.”

“Well, why are you so worked up about Trump on this? If you look at everything Obama did on immigration, he did some pretty cruel stuff too. But the media is so biased, they gave him a pass, and then they crucify Trump for just trying to enforce the laws… Besides, I don’t think they really care about these immigrants, they just want to turn them into Democratic voters.”

“I don’t really care which side is the most biased or hypocritical about treating immigrants like human beings… as much as I care about treating immigrants like human beings! If the media is finally exposing inhumane stuff, maybe that’s a good thing! Besides, Trump’s definitely taking all of this to waaaay higher levels… And there’s plenty of bias to go around, anyway. You want to enforce the law? Why I don’t ever hear anyone upset at businesses that hire illegal immigrants? They’re breaking the law, too, aren’t they? Where’s the outrage and ‘zero-tolerance’ policies for them?”

“Well, they are cracking down some on that too. I can’t help what everybody focuses on.”

“Ok, well it just seems like I always here people being way more upset at the immigrants. If anything, people should be more upset at the businesses… Immigrants are breaking the law to save their lives… The businesses are breaking the law to save some money… and hire people that won’t be able to use the legal system if they get hurt or mistreated. To these immigrants, it must feel like, ok, so you’ll let people hire us to take these hard jobs that Americans apparently don’t want to do anyway, but now when we come to take those jobs just to try to achieve a better life you’re mad at us? Is just easier to get upset at people breaking the law when they’re not Americans… or maybe when they’re not white?”

“Oh, look, I was wondering when you were gonna play the race card…”

“No, no, I’m just saying, we all have a natural tendency to care more about our own groups than other groups… It goes back to the Jews and Samaritans… and Jesus’ radical parable of loving your neighbor as yourself.”

“Well, if you’re gonna go there, Jesus was all about individual compassion, not about what governments should do. Like Sessions said, Romans 13 says to obey the government.”

“Well, if you want to go there, Romans 13 also says ‘Love does no harm to a neighbor.’ God definitely told governments what not to do – like oppressing the vulnerable – look at Daniel 4, or Jeremiah 22. And for what it’s worth, the major place in the Bible where God gave instructions to a ‘government’ about what to do, he told them to go out of their way to look after foreigners, because he knew they were vulnerable to being mistreated. And speaking of protecting foreigners… why does it seem like Republicans only want to ‘enforce the law’ when it’s against immigrants, but they ignore it when it’s the other way around, like when Sheriff Arpaio broke the law to mistreat immigrants, where ‘enforcing the law’ would have meant protecting them? And then they look the other way again when Trump pardons the guy for his wrongdoing!”

“Well, I’m not saying the Republicans are perfect, either. Besides, Trump just signed an executive order to stop the family separations… are you happy now?”

“I mean, that’s better than nothing… It still seems all wrong, though… It doesn’t cancel out the zero-tolerance policy, it adds another layer on top of it… And I’m still reading articles that the government has no real plan to get all the separated families back together… we’re still getting reports about toddlers standing trial on their own… Toddlers, man! That’s crazy! It’s not like our only choices here are ‘enforce no laws’ or ‘put toddlers in jail-day-care’… There are lots of ways to improve things without being oppressive and cruel… We don’t have to choose between foolish policy and wicked policy… That’s what I just can’t get over… I know that it’s all complicated and there’s blame and bias to go around and all that… but I just can’t get over all this cruel treatment that just seems so unnecessary… That seems to go against that higher, ultimate law of Justice… What if this is our Auschwitz? Our Japanese internment camps? I’m sure people were sitting around back then, too, having polite conversations about the pros and cons of the government forcing masses of people out of their own homes for the sake of national security – people who conveniently somehow never look quite like us… What if our grandkids will look back and wonder why we didn’t take to the streets and demand an end to this injustice? What if this is that?”

“And what if it’s not? What if it’s just a complicated mess and you just want to get worked up and feel like a savior while serving the interests of some other agenda? What are you gonna do, anyway? Go heckle a cabinet member?”

“No, I don’t agree with that… I do think the right often misses Jesus’ radical concern for the oppressed and vulnerable, but I think the left often misses Jesus’ radical response to the oppressor. ‘Defend the rights of the poor and needy‘, yes, but also ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you‘…. Instead of the heckling, what if it had been a group of Christians praying out and calling for repentance? Instead of ‘O Nebuchadnezzar,’ how about ‘O Huckabeesander, break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.’ I don’t know… Call my senators about bills to change things? Donate to that organization in El Paso or one of the other organizations trying to help separated families? Post this imaginary conversation to social media? It is a complicated mess. Love is a complicated mess. There’s always risk of error, no matter the issue. But I guess I’d rather err on the side of love. Love for my neighbor. Love for human beings in need.”

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