A Word on the Crippling of America’s Immigration System

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Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Update:  I wrote this post many months ago, before COVID 19, and long before the killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests and attention to systemic racism.  Since then, there have been no less than 48 changes to the immigration system.  I never published this post because there was a pandemic, I had a baby, and frankly, I find it uncomfortable to post things that may annoy or offend people with whom I have relationships.  But I spent a lot of time researching what is written below, and as the election approaches, I want to describe why, despite being pro-life (or perhaps because of it), I will never vote for this administration.

 

Last summer, I wrote a blog about supporting the US refugee program.  In the US, refugees are legal immigrants facing persecution who apply to seek shelter here from overseas, and go through an intense vetting process before being given legal status in the US.  The current administration has systematically depleted the US refugee program– the limit which has been above 80,000 people for decades, is now set at a historic low of 18,000, under the advisement of Stephen Miller, who recommended it be set at 0.

The cuts to the refugee program are just one of many changes to our immigration policies that have muddied the water between legal and illegal immigration, severely and needlessly limited legal immigration from mainly non-European countries, and punished those who legally seek asylum from our great country.  Some of the changes are explained here by Christian journalist and immigration expert Sophia Lee.

To summarize just a few of the changes:

We all remember the “zero-tolerance” family separation debacle, and kids put in cages.  I have often heard “well that happened under Obama too,” and it is true that it did happen under Obama, and Bush.  It happened occasionally when the parents were suspected of not being the real parents or of having committed major crimes.  What the current administration did, as suggested by the name, was to separate all families who came across the border, reclassifying the children as “unaccompanied children,” with extremely inadequate plans for tracking and reunification (even after piloting the program).  This includes families who sought out and turned themselves in to border patrol intending to seek asylum after being turned away from legal ports of entry due to metering systems imposed by the administration.  Reports from October bring the total number of children separated from their parents to over 5,400, and there are still hundreds and possibly thousands of kids lost in the system, including babies, who may not see their families again for years to come.  This should continue to shock us.

It is also telling that 7 children have died in immigration custody since 2017, as compared with the prior 10 years, during which no children died in custody.

The Trump campaign consistently promised to go after “bad hombres,” – the drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, remember?  Instead it has issued executive orders to find and deport virtually all undocumented immigrants without discrimination, further jamming an already log-jammed system, and then act like it is jammed because there are more people being apprehended at the border than ever before, which is patently untrue.  There are far fewer people being apprehended than in previous decades, and the demographics have significantly changed from mostly single men, to mostly families.  Jams are increasing because we are not prioritizing how we will use our resources to target those most likely to cause problems in the US.  Yet, the administration continues to take steps to remove prioritization, such as taking away judges’ discretion to dismiss low-priority cases in favor of prioritizing cases against those who have a criminal record.  In other words, undocumented parents who have been living here without incident for decades are treated the same as those with extensive criminal records.

The federal government is, for the first time, prosecuting those who aid immigrants by leaving food and water in the desert in order to prevent migrant deaths. It has created policies to deport individuals who step up to sponsor unaccompanied children while leaving the children to languish in detention centers meant to temporarily house single men.

It has amended policies to make it virtually impossible for families to seek asylum by making the standards for asylum nearly impossible to meet, for example by saying that gang violence cannot be considered as a criteria for asylum, or by making agreements with “safe third countries” countries that migrants who pass through must apply for protection there first.  Notably, El Salvador, which literally has the highest murder rate of any country in the world, is one such country.

Rather than allowing those who seek asylum (legally, at ports of entry) to get a lawyer and plead their case in the US, they are now sent to wait in Mexico, where they have virtually no chance of retaining legal representation (and therefore no chance of winning their case), and where they are extremely vulnerable to crime.  Please understand, the majority of these folks are destitute women and children, not from Mexico.  When, after months of waiting, they have no lawyer and therefore no means of proving their case, or they leave the camps after months of waiting because the situation there is so dangerous, the administration says, “well, I guess their cases weren’t meritorious and they didn’t really need asylum!” I’m sure that is true in some cases, but certainly not in all but 117 of them, or less than 1%.

The administration is attempting to revoke TPS status for hundreds of thousands of people who have been living here legally for years after being allowed to settle here following natural disasters or war in their home countries.  It is attempting to revoke DACA, for young people who were brought here as children. It has removed protections from deportation for service members, veterans and their families.  (Yes, for years we have allowed immigrants with various statuses to serve in our military including in combat situations, and then we sometimes deport them.)

In summary, the immigration system in the U.S. has been fraught with serious problems for decades.  Under this administration it continues to be fraught with problems, but with an added heavy dose of intentional cruelty, and an intense restriction of legal immigration.  And why is this happening?  If the economy is so terrific, why are we so drastically cutting programs that have existed for decades and helped thousands of foreign born individuals to assimilate and become contributing citizens?  What is the motivation?

Now, I can feel all the conservatives rolling their eyes back so far they can see behind them.  Here comes the “Trump is a racist” nonsense, right?  But the reality is this: the chief architect of current immigration policy, Stephen Miller, was in fact shown to have pretty undeniable white supremacist ties by hundreds of leaked emails between himself and a former writer for Breitbart.  The White house claimed that because the source was a left-leaning organization (which it is), that somehow it shouldn’t matter.  But a look at the emails themselves clearly show our chief immigration adviser applauding and disseminating openly white supremacist ideas, people, and organizations.  

Now I understand that he is not throwing around the N-word, or directly stating in emails that white Americans are superior to everyone else.  I also understand that he’s Jewish, but I believe that just like any other ethnicity, Jewish people are not immune to racism.  But, one does have to consider the context of the emails to understand why they are problematic. So I will describe one example.

After a remark by the Pope about treating immigrants with kindness (something the Catholic church has always espoused), Miller suggests that writers at Breitbart draw parallels between the book Camp of the Saints and the current reactions of leaders to what is happening at the border. A cult favorite among white supremacists, the premise of this book is that a huge crew of Indian refugees sail to France and destroy the “white world.”  The book is filled with incredibly degrading descriptions of immigrants such as “Kinky haired, swarthy-skinned, long-despised phantoms, all the teeming ants toiling for the white man’s comfort.”  The leader of the refugees is literally called the “turd-eater” because he consumes human feces.  Now I do understand that conservatives and liberals tend to have different definitions of racism, but I think most reasonable people on either side would agree that this work of fiction is just plain racist.

I’m uncertain why anyone would attempt to draw lessons from a racist dystopian fantasy rather than from facts, research and history.  Why, indeed, would they be so deeply familiar with such sources (and there are many other examples in the emails), unless they share this ideology, or at least seek to propagate it for their own political gain?  I guess what really bothers me is that this information came to light months ago, but Miller is still there, in the same role, with nothing but support from the White House.

Now consider language that has become a lot more mainstream – for example the “invasion at the border,” or comparing immigrants to animals.  Those are words from the book, and also words from speeches by our president. They are words that turn the reality of people seeking refuge –  human beings whose conditions in their home countries are so atrocious that they would risk an incredibly grueling and perilous journey with their children to legally apply for asylum here – into a fantasy of invading miscreants seeking to destroy.  They are words that justify cruel and senseless changes to our immigration policy, like those that are actually taking place now.  They are words that would only be used by someone who had never actually had a meaningful conversation with a person fleeing hopelessness in their home country.

My intention here is not to provoke support for the left, but to suggest that those on the right need to be challenging their party to do better, rather than defending it.  I feel like I shouldn’t need to say it in 2020, but white nationalism is dangerous, and it is making its way back into public policy.  The last thing that we should be is indifferent.

For those who think, “Well I believe that uncontrolled immigration opens the door to crime, illness and terrorism – does that make me a racist?” Of course it doesn’t, but it also doesn’t mean you must support policies (or people) that promote cruelty and lack common sense.  There are ways to build solutions and security without relying on the ideology of a dark and ugly part of our nation’s history.  Take a look at the Evangelical Immigration Table for thoughtful solutions for safe and compassionate immigration reform.

I’ll close with a word to fellow white Christians specifically:  When we dismiss the very valid concerns of our brothers and sisters of color, our love and care for “life” appears vapid and fraudulent.  Since before the election, Trump’s racism has been a major concern to many.  Some will say that because the things he says and does (and tweets) are not directly violent, they are not a big deal, or that his silly comments don’t actually matter because they don’t translate into action against people of color.  But the changes in immigration policy that negatively affect non-European migrants are just one example of how attitudes of people in power do in fact translate into actual human suffering on a grand scale, and specifically to vulnerable people that the Bible literally commands us to love and welcome.  This is an issue that deserves serious consideration and one on which we should not be silent.

 

 

 

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