Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Idolatry of Safety

I hear repeated promises from the President that he is going to keep us "safe."  These promises are usually preceded by a description of just how fearful the world is.  Muslims want to kill us. Immigrants are pouring in over the borders.  Inner cities are disasters of slums and violence.

The most common objection I see to admitting refugees to the U.S. is, how can we be sure they are not terrorists?  Are we safe?  Despite numerous factual descriptions of the exhaustive vetting processes that refugees go through, the President still prefers the lie, going even so far as to say recently that refugees are "not screened" before they are admitted to the U.S.  Nothing could be further from the truth, but my point will not be to describe the vetting process.  That is already well documented in other sources (for those with eyes to see and ears to hear).

Rather we should ask, why is guaranteed safety the pre-requisite for admitting refugees?  Is there any act of compassion that doesn't involve some degree of risk to the one showing compassion?  Could the "Good Samaritan" be sure that the injured man in the road wasn't really some kind of trap to rob or kill him?  Or that the man he helped wouldn't take all his money the first chance he had?

If we have to be 100% guaranteed that no refugee will ever turn terrorist before we admit any in, then we have elevated our safety to our highest moral goal.  It becomes our object of worship.  Certainly we can never give such a guarantee any more than we can guarantee that none of the 4 million children born in the U.S. each year will grow up to be a serial killer.  And the odds of being killed by one of those native born is substantially higher than the odds of being killed by a refugee or any other immigrant.  If assurance of safety were our only goal, perhaps a policy of mass infanticide would be in order -- like Herod's plan to eliminate the perceived threat of the newborn Christ.  But, of course, we must abandon such an immodest proposal.

Showing compassion and humanity to refugees is not only part of our international obligations as a country, but it is also part of the moral and just obligations of any country, especially any country with the resources with which we have been blessed.

Sometimes doing the right thing has a cost.  That's not to say we shouldn't do our best to review and vet immigrants and refugees, but to hold off on humanitarian aid purely because of some amped up and unfounded fear is wrong.

I suggest that the burden of proof is not on me or my government to prove that all refugees are safe.  I think the burden is on the anti-refugees to prove that our guaranteed safety is a higher good than our duty to act justly.

In the movie, "Open Range," Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall as two cattlemen, are trying to enlist the aid of some of the town's people in resisting an evil rancher baron and his henchman.  One farmer has two young sons and tells Kevin Costner,

"I didn't raise my boys just to see 'em killed."

To which Kevin Costner replies:

"Well, you may not know this, but there's things that gnaw at a man worse than dyin'."

I'm praying that our treatment of refugees and immigrants in the coming administration will gnaw at us enough to outweigh irrational fears for our own safety.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

I cringe when I see Melania Trump reading the Lord's Prayer at her husband's recent rally in Melbourne, FL.  Not because she seems utterly unfamiliar with it, and not because I have anything against the Lord's Prayer, or Melania for that matter.  But because this administration's policies are utterly at odds with the content of the prayer.  The crowd cheers wildly because, I suppose, they think someone is standing up for Christianity by reading the prayer.  This is the worst kind of civil religion.  It is, as Paul says to Timothy, "having a form of godliness, but denying its power."  2 Tim. 3:5

How cynical for this administration to issue just this weekend the most draconian enforcement priorities I've ever seen against immigrants (affecting children, asylum seekers, parents, children, and spouses of U.S. citizens, spouses of soldiers, etc.), and then read:

"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Forgiveness is a Christian virtue, but apparently forgotten when it comes to immigrants -- whom we are expressly told by the Scriptures to treat humanely and compassionately.  Although the use of the word "trespass" in the Lord's Prayer reflects an old English definition of offense, it certainly describes the plight of most immigrants here without legal authorization.  They are "trespassers" desperately looking for a legal solution to their presence here.  And in most cases, contributing much more to our society than they ever take.

No one disputes that criminal aliens should be punished and likely banned from the U.S. (depending on the nature and severity of the crime and other mitigating factors, like family, etc. -- something for judges to parse out).  But this administration treats every immigrant who never had legal status, or had it and lost it, as criminals deserving of the harshest punishment, regardless of family, character, or contributions to the U.S.  The private prison industry will rejoice at their profits.  The poor will cry for relief from their oppressors, like the children of Israel in the land of Egypt.

Note to administration: Please don't read the Lord's Prayer and ignore its content, and then think you are somehow standing up for Christianity.  You are not.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Delegitimizing President

In one of his latest tweets, the President commented on an adverse ruling by a federal judge on the President's traveling ban, calling to the judge as this “so-called judge.”  Judge James Robart of Washington is not a “so called” judge.  He is a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate under the procedures laid out by the U.S. Constitution.  He is “so-called” a judge by the legitimate authorities within our country.  To challenge that by implying otherwise is an attack on the democracy.

The President has a nasty habit of doing this – delegitimizing any persons or structures around him that would threaten his supremacy.  Remember during the campaign, when reminded that his opponent at that time, Ben Carson, was a “great doctor,” he responded that he was “perhaps an O.K. doctor.” John McCain “wasn’t a war hero.”  Jeb Bush was “low energy.”  Hillary Clinton was “crooked Hillary.”  Ted Cruz was “lyin’ Ted.” Marco Rubio was “little Marco.”  And don’t forget that his career was born on the multi-year false attack on the legitimacy of President Obama’s birthplace and the documents of his achievements.

All of this had the intention and effect of delegitimizing his enemies as persons because they were possible threats to the reality star turned politician’s ambitions.  In fact, his response to virtually any attack was not to defend or rebut the attack, but to delegitimize the attacker.

More seriously, he also turned his attacks on the media and the judiciary.  The press is constantly referred to as “dishonest,” and “lying,” and “corrupt.”  At one campaign rally, he joked that they should be killed, but he probably wouldn’t do it (although he was thinking about it).  He singled out reporters for criticism, to the point that one reporter had to be escorted out by Secret Service while the crowd jeered and threatened her.  And we all remember how he mocked a disabled reporter because he wouldn’t confirm Trump’s lie about celebrations among Muslims after 911.

When a fraud case concerning his “university” was before a federal judge, the President dismissed the judge (who was U.S. born) as a “Mexican” who couldn’t rule fairly on his case.  Trump later quietly paid $25 million to settle the case.

These attacks could be dismissed as the product of a thin-skinned, ego driven, narcissist.  And they are certainly that too.  But the more nefarious aspect is how the institutions that hold together democracy are weakened and made to appear less trustworthy.

Democracy doesn’t survive without a free press and independent judiciary.   If we don’t trust our institutions, then we will trust some strongman who promises us that “he alone” can save us.  That’s the end of a democratic society. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Trump's Revenge Killings "Unsound"

As if torture wasn’t enough, now we target family members?

It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see the progression of moral arguments on the political level in the last few years as related to national security.  Several years ago, the Bush administration actively tried to hide the fact of torture of captives following 911, and then, when exposed, tried to define what they did as not torture.  Because, after all, who supports torture?

Turns out, in an election season, lots of people do.  Now, politicians routinely advocate the use of torture “to keep America safe,” regardless of how doubtful that proposition is from a cause and effect analysis.

Now, Donald Trump wants to take it a step further.  We should target and kill the family members of suspected terrorists.  He thinks, without any evidence whatsoever, that this will make them think twice about a suicide bombing.  It seems to me to be a little ridiculous that a person about to kill himself and others would think twice about surviving family members.  After all, the San Bernardino terrorists left behind a six month old child.  Does Donald Trump want to kill that child now to show the terrorists that we are serious?  How does that not just inflame more acts of terrorism?

What’s next?  Should we put terrorists’ heads on stakes around the capitol as a warning?  This kind of barbarism is not (or should not be) American.  We want the world to look at us as champions of human rights, not the biggest bully on the block who is willing to violate every ethical principle to get what it wants.  When we present the Donald Trump image to the world, he thinks they will see us as tough and uncompromising.  I think they will see us as hated enemies of human rights and humanity.  Any thought of cooperation from the world community on rooting out terrorism will disappear and Donald Trump will become a poster child for jihadist recruitment.  His policy is not only morally repugnant, it is stupid.

The Donald Trump school of security reminds me much more of a mafia don than a U.S. President.  Or perhaps, Marlon Brandon’s character in the movie, Apocalypse Now, who asks,  “Are my methods unsound?”  Yes, they are, Mr. Trump.  Wildly, disgustingly unsound.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Who Cares about Security?

In the current debate over funding of Homeland Security, both sides are predictably accusing the other of putting the nation’s security at risk by refusing to cooperate with the other side.  Without an agreement, funding for Homeland Security, which guards our borders, processes immigration benefits, etc., will be at unavailable.

But look at what is below the funding debate and ask which path is more secure.  The President issued an executive order deferring deportation for certain non-criminal long term residents without legal status, but with strong relationships in the U.S. or strong equities for being permitted to remain (e.g. immigrants brought here as children without legal status).  Opponents don’t like the executive order granting temporary legal status to those that qualify and won’t pass funding for Homeland Security unless the executive order is rescinded, or at least made incapable of being carried out.  They have also sued to enjoin it from being carried out, and a federal judge in Houston has agreed, although that decision is widely expected to be overturned in due course, and the executive order will take effect eventually.

Apart from the legality of the executive order, which I strongly support (along with over 100 constitutional law scholars across the country), which option makes more sense for the security of the country?  The status quo is a haphazard roundup of whoever may fall into the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement arm of Homeland Security.   This can be anyone from migrant workers to scientists who have fallen out of status, to parents of U.S. citizens (in the hundreds of thousands) to criminal aliens.  It can be recent border crossers to residents with over 10-20 years of peaceful work in the U.S.  In fact, over half of the 11.2 million estimated unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. have been here 10 years or more.

The agencies all recognize that they are simply incapable of removing every unauthorized alien in the U.S., even if they wanted to.  The costs would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the economic damage would be severe.  There has been untold human suffering already in the over two million persons removed from the U.S. during the current administration.  The destruction that action has caused and continues to cause for immigrant and U.S. families, many of whom have mixed status people in the household, is enormous. 

But would attempted continuation of the current failed effort to remove every unauthorized immigrant make us more secure?  Absolutely not.  A deferred action plan, such as proposed by the President, would require people to come forward and register.  They would be fingerprinted and their criminal histories checked.  Those with criminal history would be ineligible and would likely not come forward or would and be referred to ICE for removal.  The administration estimates about 5 million would be eligible for this temporary relief.  They would be allowed to remain temporarily and receive work authorization while waiting for Congress to fashion a permanent solution.  Enforcement resources could then be directed toward those who do not register and those who do not qualify.  In the President’s scheme, this would be criminal aliens, and recent arrivals, including those attempting to cross at the border. 

With all the focus on giving a temporary reprieve for those mentioned above, it is forgotten that the President’s plan would also shift significant resources to apprehending criminal aliens and those attempting to cross at the borders, rather than the more expensive interior enforcement aimed at settled immigrant communities.

Law enforcement groups widely support this kind of plan, as do a large number of mayors of large U.S. cities.  Why?  Because they need immigrant communities to cooperate with them in law enforcement.  If the immigrant communities fear going to the police, or even talking to them, because they might be turned over to ICE, they won’t cooperate, and crimes will not be solved and criminals will not be punished.  Even persons here with legal status are often afraid to go the police because they have a relative living with them that has no status.  If a significant portion of these immigrant communities are permitted to come forward and get temporary legal status, it will allow law enforcement to focus on those who don’t come forward, and those attempting to enter illegally now.   

The executive action is a more secure situation for the nation, and long overdue.  To oppose the executive action because one simply cannot stomach some kind of "executive amnesty" is to value a random, ineffective, but too harsh punishment of non-criminal immigrants over national security.

To be clear, this is not a substitute for congressional action, but until Congress can find the will to act, the President’s executive action is a perfectly sensible, moral, and more secure action to take on behalf of the country.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Immigration Critics Paint Themselves in a Corner with Cries of “Amnesty”

The President’s Executive Order deferring deportation for millions of unauthorized immigrants who may qualify for his plan is loudly derided by critics as “amnesty” or “executive amnesty” (I love Colbert’s take that the President wasn’t just satisfied with giving them “amnesty” he had to offer them “executive amnesty” – which must mean some special perks.)   

Critics have learned that if they can label something as “amnesty,” it will lose public support.  But when some of those same critics are asked what they would do – take, for example Cong. Tim Huelskamp’s recent awkward and painful squirming when asked that question on Bloomberg News – they have no answer.  They say they don’t support gestapo style mass deportations, but what can they support?  Well, they don’t know yet.  They just know they don’t support amnesty (defined in the broadest way imaginable) and they don’t support mass deportation, so what is left?  Apparently, the status quo, which means about 400,000 deportations a year, including thousands of non-criminal parents of U.S. citizens, immigrant children fleeing persecution and gang recruitment, and untold human suffering and family disintegration.

It isn’t as if critics haven’t been given a chance to do something.  A comprehensive bi-partisan Senate bill was passed over 500 days ago and sent to the House.  The President would have signed it.  The House refused even to allow a vote on the bill (and it had a good chance of passage).  And yet those same people are now saying that the President’s plan fails constitutionally because he won’t work cooperatively with Congress.

Something needed to be done and, frankly, it should have been done long before now.  A bandage was applied by executive action, but it’s Congress that needs to perform the surgery, if only they will. Instead, their plan seems to be to declare the President’s action unconstitutional, while offering nothing positive in return.

Rest assured, the executive order by the President is constitutional.  Without a doubt.   It was also constitutional two years ago when he, by executive order, granted deferred action to childhood arrivals (the “Dreamers”) to stay their deportations.  About 500,000 deserving immigrants benefitted from this.  Two times the constitutionality was challenged in the courts (in Texas and Florida).  Both times, courts found it constitutional, and the program continued.

If lawsuits are filed again, they will fail again.  Fox News commentator, Geraldo Rivera, stated on Fox News that he would stake “his mortgage” on the constitutionality of the executive action.  While I can’t afford that kind of wager, I feel the same.  By the way, there is a good 33 page legal opinion from legal counsel for the White House explaining the constitutionality of the action, and why they didn’t go as far as we might have wanted in the action.

So apart from lawsuits challenging constitutionality, what can critics do?  If everything short of deportation is “amnesty,” what to do?  That’s the problem.  They have said paying fines and staying is amnesty, long paths to legalization (17 years in the Senate bill) is amnesty, etc.  Anything except immediate removal from the country, regardless of how much social and economic damage that may do, is amnesty.   

In 2010, the Center for American Progress studied the effects and costs of mass deportation verses a comprehensive immigration strategy that provided a path to legalization.  The direct costs of deportation were about $285 billion (if it could even be done).  There would be a resulting economic impact in reducing our gross domestic product by $2.5 trillion over a ten year period.  In contrast, a program of legalization could increase GDP by a cumulative total of $1.5 trillion over that same ten year period.  Other studies have confirmed this impact as well.

That’s the economic impact of a “no amnesty” stance.  The social impact is much worse as families are torn apart and exploited.  Neither our economy nor our national character can take a hit of this magnitude.

Yet we all know that amnesty is unacceptable, or is it?

A wonderful friend from church told me once that he loved immigrants, but could never accept amnesty.  And I said, “why not?” “What is your problem with forgiveness?”  I’m still wondering that.  Christians believe in forgiveness (and if we don’t, then we don’t have much to offer the world).  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  “Trespass” is an appropriate word to use in the Lord’s Prayer in this context.  Apparently, we have a really hard time forgiving those who trespass over that which we have trespassed before them.

Whatever flaws there are in the executive action (and it’s certainly no complete or lasting solution to the immigration issues), Congress can supersede the President’s action by enacting positive legislation in the area. 

Congress, it’s time to grow up and work on a solution that recognizes the dignity of the good people that work among us, marry our children, and worship with us, while setting future policy that meets the needs of families, workers, and employers in the U.S.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pity the Children; Pity the "Patriots"

It’s hard to stomach some of the reactions I am seeing to the 50,000 or more children appearing at our borders since October and seeking help from the US.  The question we should be asking over and over in this is, “what is the right thing to do with these children?”  If the answer is not to show compassion and humanity to them, then we have truly lost our way as a nation.

Unfortunately, the way Washington and much of the rest of the country wants to deal with this follows a familiar pattern.  They are most concerned with these questions: “Who is to blame for this?” and “How can I make the most political points out of this and hurt my political opponent?”  The children then become merely yet another political pawn in part of our never ending game for advantage.

This is truly a humanitarian crisis for the children and when I see some of our reactions here, I realize it is also a crisis of our own humanity in the US.  We are in danger of losing our souls, our own humanity, over our lack of compassion in the situation. 

First, let’s consider what this situation is not.

1.  It is not a failure of border security.  I see some analysts do a pretty good job of looking at the reasons the children are coming, and then conclude that the solution is more troops, guns, drones, etc. on the border.  These children are not sliding through the border undetected.  Our border security has had massive increases in personnel, tools, and spending over the past several years. 

These children are looking for officers and presenting themselves to them to be taken into custody.  They are seeking refuge.  If the answer is more border security, then does that mean they think the kids should be shot or repelled as they approach the border? 

2.  This is not an invasion.  Yes, they are appearing at our border.  They are not here to destroy Twin Towers, or anything else in the U.S.  They are not here to bring disease – one Congressman is even repeating the demonstrably false claim that they may be bringing ebola, a virus found only in Africa.

 They are seeking refuge.  Interviews have taken place with large numbers of the children, and the message that appears over and over is that they came to escape gang recruitment, drug wars, and extensive violence in their countries. 

In 1939, 937 German Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany sailed on the MS St. Louis and were denied refuge in Cuba, the U.S. and Canada before sailing back to Europe.  It is estimated that about one quarter of the Jews aboard later died in German concentration camps.  No one thinks that this was a proud moment of U.S. morality in their rejection of these refugees.  And now we have the specter of flag waiving pseudo “patriots” trying to block busloads of children from getting to facilities to care for them.

There is a very real possibility that many of these children would be killed if returned to their home countries.  The law currently in place (signed by Pres. George W. Bush) requires that unaccompanied children entering the US (and not from contiguous countries – sorry, Mexico) should not be summarily returned, but should first be turned over to Dept. of Health and Human Services for a determination of whether they are victims of trafficking, have asylum claims, etc.  This is the law that many of those legislators who originally voted for the law, are now trying to repeal so that we can expeditiously deport children. 

So does this mean compassion and due process are only relevant concerns when applied to small numbers of children coming to the U.S., but not large?  If it was moral in in 2008 for us to give special consideration to children arriving at our border, why do we sacrifice that now in the name of expediency?

3.  This is not an undue burden on our resources.  I’m tired of the people that argue we can spend trillions on weapons systems and to support unnecessary and unjust wars, even beyond what our own military request, and corporate welfare, but can’t afford to take care of children, or the poor, widows, or orphans.  We could easily absorb into this country ten times that many children and not strain our resources (and we would be a lot better off in our national character for it), and I can pretty much guarantee that there are plenty of Americans willing to take responsibility for the great majority of these children if our legal system will permit it. 

But there is an increasing mentality in our country that “not one dime of my money should be spent for anything unless it benefits me personally.”  And then they waive flags and tell us how patriotic they are.

This is not patriotism.  Nativism is not patriotism.  The people waving flags and terrorizing busloads of children are not being patriotic.  They are being pathetic in their narcissism.  And please don’t suppose that our constitution endorses this.  Remember the opening lines of the Constitution?  “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  Oppressing refugee children that show up on our doorsteps certainly fits no biblical definition of establishing justice.

Yes, this is a humanitarian crisis in more ways than one.  The children need protection from the violence in their countries and our political intervention should aim at solutions for that – not just shutting our doors and pretending the problem doesn’t exist because we somehow kept it out of our country.  But there is also a humanity crisis in our own hearts when we despise children in need.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister [or child] in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”  I John 3.17

We should have pity on these children and find solutions that go beyond merely keeping them out of our backyards and returning them to lives of death and destruction.  That decision would also certainly come back one day to haunt us.  But I also have pity on those who think this is some kind of solution.