AMERICA’S "EXCEPTIONAL” REFUGEE RESPONSE
It was an unusually cold Christmas this past year in much of the United States. Yet Christmas always seems to engender stories that warm the heart, like the terrific tale of a couple in Buffalo NY, with feet of snow all around, who take in a stranded group of Korean tourists who got stuck in the snow in front of their house. This simple act of kindness allowed them to see strangers in need and respond, and the rest of us got to see what can happen when we open our hearts and minds to those in need, even when they don’t look like us.*
However, before you could get too teary-eyed about how wonderful Christmas was and how proud Jesus would have been of us, perhaps you hopped on board one of the Washington DC bound buses full of Latino immigrants. There you would have found cold and hungry children sent from Texas by their good “Christian” governor, Greg Abbott, to be dumped on a street corner in Washington, DC near the doorstep of the Vice President of the United States on Christmas Eve. If you were onboard that bus, you would have been able to touch human beings being treated like refuse.
Then, remember that they may be the lucky ones. They were not shivering on the pavement in El Paso, Texas or Ciudad Juárez, Mexico simply hoping that their god would stop the suffering because it is clear that the “wonderful” Americans would not. To get closer, and if you have any doubts, next time you hold your child this winter, wrap her in a blanket and leave her on the sidewalk for a while. Maybe that will help the unconvinced to understand what the American government apparently does not understand – cruelty is cruelty even when the children aren’t yours.
The images are everywhere, individual compassion abounds and some reach out to help while our politicians find billions for weapons of war and tens of millions to invest in propaganda and their own campaigns. And then more billions to invest in “border security” that pushes human beings to the freezing side of nowhere. This is, unfortunately, an all-hands-on deck dereliction of duty at every level of government. It is underscored by a complete disregard for the international norms that seek to impose humane requirements for meeting immigrant pleas for asylum and refuge and the US laws meant to codify those norms.**
Then, there is the nagging feeling that if these refugees were Italians or Hungarians or Ukrainians, the American government would have figured out a way to keep their children warm and fed and sheltered, regardless of the mindless political drama and legal morass that seems enshrined in America’s response to Black and Brown refugees. As a nation still struggling with any semblance of racial justice, the situation at the US southern border has the similar stench of police violence, housing red lines, and intractable education and health disparities.
It would be remarkable if the images of cruelty were enough to say “enough” and for a collective conscience to rise up and figuratively storm the Capital to stop the cruelty. Apparently, it finally became just enough for the generally compassionate President Biden to find his way to the southern border. Unfortunately, the brief visit was all show and no substance. Not only were the cold and hungry children and their desperate parents and companions kept away from President Biden, he wasn’t even given the opportunity to hold a shivering child in his arms and say to that child: “There is nothing I can do.” While so wrong and so untrue, at least it would have been dramatic.
While it was nice that the President thanked those who “guard” the border for their tireless service on behalf of a threatened nation and met with a few beleaguered local officials, it was immediately clear that the cruelty remained behind as the presidential motorcade swept away.
For some reason, the President seemed to go it alone, with only his ineffective Secretary of Homeland Security at his heels. There was absolutely no attempt at a show of resolve in the face of the crisis at hand, and no sign of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Defense, and Transportation, or the Attorney General. At the least, each of them could have said to an additional shivering child: “There is nothing I can do.”***
However, there is plenty that that each of them coul do, but they are choosing not to do it. They routinely condemn cruelty around the globe, but seem blind in the darkness at home. Tent cities and other temporary shelters go up all the time in other countries to house refugees, but not at the US southern border. Food, clothing, and basic healthcare are provided by governments committed to the humane treatment of human beings seeking asylum and refuge, even those they don’t really want in their countries. It happens every day, just not at the US southern border. That border is reserved for chaos driven cruelty.
To be certain, America needs comprehensive immigration reform that not only addresses those seeking to enter the US legally and illegally, but those already here. It is estimated that there are over 11 million illegal immigrants within the US, about a third of whom were brought to the US illegally as minors and have lived most of their lives in the US (“DREAMers”).****
It is well documented that the vast majority of the illegal immigrant population lead peaceful lives and contribute to the nation’s communities. Yet, all live under the threat of inhumane deportation, even the guy who coaches your kid’s baseball team and the woman who takes care of your kids when you are at work. As they drag your kid’s coach to a detention center, remember to tell him that he will be missed.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. As with so many of the seemingly intractable challenges that face any nation, the easiest to forget are often the cruelest. In America, there are children who go to bed hungry every night, there are human beings walking our streets in front of us without hope or shelter, and there are voiceless immigrants being exploited every single day. Look at them, touch them, and when you retreat to your own safe haven, remember them and forcefully advocate for them.
That some local charities, church groups, or just plain folks step up to help is obviously not getting the job done. America needs those groups, those people, and so many more among us to ignite an angry response to the cruelty being carried out in our names by our governments at every level. Sometimes anger is the only thing that works. Ya no más – no more, not anymore – should be a rallying cry that will reach the ears of the cold and hungry children at the border and elsewhere and finally reach the ears of the derelict in America’s governments who have turned their backs on those children.
If we turn away now from what we have just seen and continue to see, each of us will lose a little piece of our own dignity.