During a speech to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies in early May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the administration’s minions, said, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” “If you don’t like that,” he added, “then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
Sessions was not threatening criminal gangs or human traffickers. He was threatening mothers and fathers seeking refuge from unrelenting violence and economic deprivation. He was talking about jailing parents for doing their duty to protect their children.
This was Sessions announcing the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants crossing the border illegally.
In mid-May we celebrated Mother’s Day. Today is Father’s Day. Sandwiched between these two quaint Hallmark Card observances, is the brutal reality that within the intervening month, this nation, that in its pledge of allegiance professes to be a nation under God, mercilessly ripped 2000 children from the arms of their mommies and daddies. Can the rest of us moms and dads go to sleep peacefully at night knowing that these actions are happening under our watch, before our eyes, and are being done in our name and purportedly in the name of our security?
Those 2,000 minors taken into custody since the policy was announced joined the ranks of nearly 11,000 other children that were, as of end of May, already in custody according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. 13,000 kids are being housed in, and lets call them what they are, concentration camps.
Please close your eyes. For a moment allow your self to imagine the terror that government agents are injecting into the hearts of these children. With your eyes still closed, take a deep breath, and now visualize one of these kids. Look into the child’s eyes. See and feel the fear. Connect with the trauma. Keep your eyes closed, and if you are a parent, picture your own child being torn from your arms. Feel the pain. Now open your eyes.
Making family separation a point of government policy is inhuman, immoral and evil. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is downright cruel. Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring. These actions are also a direct assault on whatever exists of moral fiber in the souls of the citizens of this nation. Nothing at all can justify such a violation of basic human decency, goodness and integrity. It is totally abhorrent and must be regarded and dealt with as absolutely unacceptable.
On Thursday, Sessions had the biblically ignorant chutzpah to claim that the bible justifies his actions.
He cited Romans 13 and what Sessions sees as the clear and wise command of the Apostle Paul to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. And the White House, through Sarah Sanders, another minion, backed up Sessions’ ignorant claim saying that it is “very biblical to enforce the law.”
We remember that when Satan tempted Jesus in the dessert, the devil quoted scripture. Inspired by this biblical story, in his Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare wrote,
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek, A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”
Sessions has taken the passage from Romans 13 completely out of context. Immediately beforehand and afterwards, Paul urges readers to love others, including their enemies and affirms in no uncertain terms that the law is fulfilled in love. Anyone with half an ounce of moral conviction knows that tearing children away from parents has nothing to do with love.
People have often misused the Bible to justify all manner of evils. In fact, the same passage Sessions cited has been used to justify slavery and the Nazi atrocities.
Slave traders tore children away from their parents and tried to justify it with the Bible. The Nazis tore children away from their parents and tried to justify it with the Bible. Sessions follows the pattern of history. What is chilling is to think that we again live in such morally deranged times.
No matter how people want to read into Romans 13, it does not mean that Christian citizens should not protest against and refuse to obey bad laws or bad government. The kingdom seeded by God into our hearts has the first claim upon our loyalty, allegiance and obedience.
It is perfectly reasonable, indeed a duty and part of our submission to the will of God, for Christian citizens to express their outrage about the law and/or its administration when the law is ethically indefensible, to resist it in every way possible, and to refuse compliance. Borrowing a page from Oscar Romero, and embracing the integrity of this holy martyr for justice, soon to be declared a saint, who cried out to the government’s soldiers and said, “In the name of God I order you to lay down your guns”, people of faith must stand together and say, “Border agents, in the name of God, we order you to stop doing your job.”
We must take a cue from the protest of black athletes. No piece of cloth, no matter what it may seek to represent, can claim preferential respect in the face of human degradation. First respect human beings, then we can talk about respecting flags.
While this nation may strive to be a nation under God, human beings are, in fact, fashioned in the image of God. This is a given that alone gives human persons the preferential option when it comes to respect. As black athletes take the knee to protest the continuing violation of black lives, may we all learn from their courageous witness and take the knee for immigrants and refugees until a just and merciful immigration policy is put into effect.
The clear and unambiguous teaching of the Bible is that we are to care for the poor and always demonstrate compassion for those seeking refuge. This teaching begins with the Torah and will be made a litmus test on Judgment Day when Jesus will say, “When you failed to welcome the stranger, you failed to welcome me.”
No law requires that migrant families be separated at the border. Previous administrations have treated this as an administrative, not criminal, issue. This administration could to do the same but has chosen not to.
Some suggest that people with legitimate fears should seek asylum before entering the U.S. But that process has become increasingly difficult to virtually impossible.
The United Nations human rights office said that the policy is a serious violation of the rights of the child, and called on U.S. authorities to adopt noncustodial alternatives.
Children and families will continue to take the enormous risks of migration — including family separation — because the root causes of migration remain: community or state-sanctioned violence, gang recruitment, poverty, and a lack of educational opportunity.
And we must at some point face a hard truth. The root causes of our “migration problem” lie on the other side of our borders and they were sown with the seeds of foreign policy decisions this nation made in Central America over the last six decades — supporting dictatorships, quashing democracy and imposing imperialistic economic policies. This nation has never taken responsibility for the part we played in creating the violence, poverty and lack of opportunity that force our brothers and sisters south of our borders to uproot their families and flee north.
Eradicating the problems that force people to leave their homes is the only real deterrent to border violations. Trade and foreign aid decisions based on the common good and the principle of solidarity rather than selfish greed, will establish that secure border that neither cruel laws nor a ridiculous wall will ever achieve.
In so many parables Jesus reminds us that God has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. These seeds though small are what give us a hope for the future. For the seeds bear a promise. The Kingdom will indeed come in its fullness. We are to recognize, nurture and tend those seeds and their growth until the harvest.
But the devil also sows and his minions nurture and tend seeds of deceit, violence, hate and destruction. The devil and his minions advance the lie. The devil pardons criminals and criminalizes the innocent. We must be wise enough to discern the difference and give our all for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
June 17, 2018