The arrival at our southern border in recent months of over 60,000 children challenges our national identity.
How we resolve this challenge will have a profound influence on the sort of society we leave to future generations.
The controversy, incivility, anger and political opportunism that have erupted around this issue confirms that the values in play are as fundamental as forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, or promoting the general welfare. In how we respond to this Children’s Crusade we are deciding the contours of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for our time.
Tomorrow President Obama will host the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador at the White House. Something close to an ideal solution would involve family reunification with reasonable guarantees of freedom from desperate want and fear. This seems unlikely in the near-term.
We can change our laws to deter children from being pointed toward our borders. But when families pay thousands of dollars to give their children into the tender mercies of smugglers, it is also reasonable to examine how our effort to deter compares with the perceived risks that prompt the 1400-mile plus journey.
When there is a perception of little-to-lose and much-to-gain, even the prospect of prompt-return may be but one more lifeless mount on a Kafkaesque carousel.
What are the real-world human implications of turning-away children in desperate need? How does this conform with American values? Deporting children without even a hearing? It strikes me as entirely too analogous to the MS St. Louis… multiplied by about 60.
The policy issues relate to sovereignty, border security, and the integrity of the legal system. These are significant matters. The ethical issues involve the life and death of children and shared responsibility for the poorest of the poor. These are complicated matters.
Homeland Security Watch has not given much sustained attention to immigration policy. I expect this is changing. These significant and complicated matters will not be solved at tomorrow’s White House summit.
My Personal Bias
On the first day of my first college class the professor insisted that an ethical speaker has an obligation to state his or her biases. His argument for this principle involved 1) the benefits of self-awareness and organized thinking that emerge from identifying our own biases, 2) the invitation for others to critique and potentially correct personal bias, and 3) the social value of all speakers accepting that we tend to be creatures of un-examined bias, but with careful listening and mutual respect bias can be balanced with reason. (I know, I know. This is what happens when you live long enough. The past really is another country.)
So… as we begin what may be a recurring dialogue related to immigration policy, forthwith are the key elements of my personal bias.
From the Hebrew Bible:
17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 24)
From the New Testament:
23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! (Gospel of Matthew 23)
I do not pretend these sources are authoritative for the purposes of our dialogue. This is where my thinking begins. For purposes of immigration policy my thinking must go beyond this beginning. But to the extent you seek to shift my stance, the implications of these sources are worth attention.
John Rawls, widely claimed as the most influential political philosopher of our time, wrote, “Reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious or non-religious, may be introduced in public political discussion at any time, provided that in due course proper political reasons – and not reasons given solely by comprehensive doctrines – are presented that are sufficient to support whatever the comprehensive doctrines are said to support.”
In due course…
(Oh, by the way, the title is also biblical: Matthew 19:13-14.)
UPDATE: FRIDAY, JULY 25
House proposal to address current border controversy: Story in Roll Call. Statement by Kay Granger, Chair of the “House Working Group to address the national security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border.”