A few reflections on the inhumane treatment of migrants at our southern border, in no particular order:
(1) It’s not illegal to seek asylum in the U.S. It’s perfectly lawful. The migrants are not breaking the law in their attempts to do so.
(2) Tear gassing children is inhumane, unconscionable and cruel, full stop. This represents a total failure of leadership on multiple levels. If you wish to defend this practice by appealing to whataboutism, then you haven’t provided an ethical justification for it; you’ve simply heightened the ubiquity of the practice and the urgency of meaningfully responding to it.
(3) Anyone who wishes to say “we are a nation of laws” must first ask why our own leaders are violating our very own laws set in place for asylum seekers. The border was closed preemptively in order to keep the migrants from applying for asylum. You can call this shifting the goalposts or violating the laws of the land; both are unlawful.
(4) Those who say progressives are arguing for open borders fail to listen to what we’ve been saying all along (perhaps to a fault): all we want is for our leaders to follow the laws currently in place for migrants seeking asylum, and to provide proper resourcing to carry out these laws. We are asking for law and order. Protecting the border begins by protecting the laws at the border and making sure our country has the resources necessary to implement the laws in place. When we have to resort to other measures, we have failed. We are a nation of laws. When these laws aren’t fair, when these laws fall short of the call for justice, then we need to follow proper protocol in order for such laws to reform and reconfigure so they better align with justice, fairness, and dignity.
(5) The horrific systemic violence these migrants are fleeing is worse than what Saddam Hussein did to his people (just read the Amnesty International reports). Which makes me wonder: Why did so many Americans back then think it was noble and courageous for us to spend billions (trillions?) on a war to “liberate” the Iraqi people from the evils of Hussein’s regime (you’ll recall this was one of the most popular justifications made by those championing the war effort), but now, when it comes to tangibly helping people at our border who are fleeing traumatic violence that is far more severe, we are now hostile to the idea of investing paltry sums of money and resources (by comparison to the war effort) to help those who are most desperate right now? While this may sound like the height of hypocrisy, it’s perfectly consistent with a narrative of American aggression against people of color. This is a very ugly truth that is in the DNA of our country. Dominant power structures in the U.S. idolize violent aggression, especially against people of color.
Note that this also answers the question of why those most hostile to immigrants are usually and ironically the descendants of European immigrants who “founded” this country by (a) stealing land from indigenous peoples, (b) committing genocide against indigenous peoples, and (c) enslaving Africans: Again, the common denominator is aggression against people of color. The same is true today.
(6) Relatedly, I’m disturbed by the fact that no small number of people get a perverse pleasure in watching the suffering of others.
(7) Using pejorative language like “illegals” (or “illegal aliens”) is intentionally designed to dehumanize those seeking asylum in order to make the inhumane treatment of other human beings more palatable. It’s a classic form of “othering” that is historically connected to racism, discrimination, and genocide.
(8) As I think about the exchange between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lindsey Graham, and the Auschwitz Memorial (which quickly shut down Graham’s mansplaining on Twitter), I keep wondering where we are in this narrative. Are we more like 1930s Germany, when Jews were being dehumanized and “othered”? Or are we more like those countries who refused to grant asylum to Jewish migrants fleeing certain death?
(9) Even though Facebook will be Facebook, I’m still taken aback at just how cold-hearted and calloused some people are. I understand if to a certain extent we disagree on best policies, but how can a person not have any sympathy for those desperate to survive? How does one take this so lightly, replete with lots of haha emojis that make fun of the suffering and sadness of real human beings??? This is truly awful. I suppose this is related to item 6 above.
(10) We can’t forget that our foreign policy (including the sale of arms) has contributed to massive amounts of suffering in Central and South America. We’ve supported numerous despotic regimes and propped up oppressive power structures for decades. Complaining that people are fleeing violence that we have no small hand in creating is akin to setting a family’s house on fire and locking the doors and blaming them for trying desperately to escape. Or tear gassing their house and when they try to find refuge in our house we tear gas them again to keep them out.
(11) I don’t know what your views are. You may or may not be in favor of helping desperate people flee from violence and find safety. Whatever. Just don’t use Christianity to justify your views. Especially at Christmas. Recall Herod’s massacre of the infants. Recall the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus) fleeing to Egypt to escape violence. If Egypt had the same policies currently in place at our southern border, it’s likely that the Holy Family wouldn’t have survived. And recall Jesus’ words to welcome the stranger. Hell, he even has a parable where those who don’t welcome the stranger go to hell. So just stop. Don’t. And if that’s not enough, recall Jesus’ tradition. He was Jewish. And the Torah (what Christians call the Old Testament) repeatedly talks about treating the foreigner and the immigrant as one of you. So please. Enough with the empty appeals to religion. All it does is cloak your discrimination in the name of God, which is a prime example of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Which goes against the 10 Commandments. So stop. If you want to be inhumane, own it your damn self. It’s your prerogative. But don’t go around saying Jesus supports your views when all the evidence shows he doesn’t.
(12) I close with the poem “Home,” by Warsan Shire, which has been widely shared as of late (TW: language and imagery):
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
sucking our country dry
[N-word] with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
or the insults are easier
than your child body
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here