[DISCLAIMER: These blog posts do not necessarily reflect The Salvation Army. Opinions and thoughts do not reflect all Salvationists.]
When the United States first started separating children from their parents at the border, I was devastated. Not just because I find it absolutely abhorrent that we would treat any human in this way but because as the daughter of an immigrant I can’t help but to think about my dad every time I see a family detained at the border.
You see, my father came to this country through the “proper immigration channels” but his early life was far from easy. Like many of the children who are coming to our country today, my dad lived in a war-torn country. In fact, war broke out in his homeland six months before he was born and the first five years of his life were marked by the violence and terror that comes with war.
Despite proclaiming neutrality at a time of international war, our nation came under attack and was occupied by a corrupt foreign power. The country’s government officials and ruling family were able to escape but my dad, and the rest of the country’s population, were left to suffer at the hands of their captors. The illegal government passed laws restricting our people. My grandfather was forced, along with every man between 18 and 45, to work in factories that were bombed on a regular basis by the people who were actually trying to liberate them and family members were lost to those bombings. In the last year of the occupation a famine occurred and more than 30,000 people died of exhaustion, cold, and disease while trying to get to a safe place and 18,000 died of actual starvation. In the end, 205,901 of my father’s countrymen died from war related causes; which were more deaths per capita than any other occupied country during the war.
I can’t even imagine what my father went through as a child, but the person I can relate to most is my grandmother. My grandmother was the strongest person I have ever met. Despite the horrors of war and an occupied existence, my grandmother did whatever she could to keep her family together. As I watched the sobbing mothers on television and the scared children that are being ripped out of their arms, I thought about my dad, but I am really thought about my grandmother. What would it have been like if my grandmother had done everything humanly possible to keep my dad safe, only to have him ripped out of her arms? How would my life be different if my dad’s country was treated the same way we treat Central American or Middle Eastern countries?
Former First Lady, Laura Bush, wrote a scathing column in the Washington Post speaking out against the separation policy. Like Mrs. Bush, I live in a border state and I understand the need for protecting our international boundaries but kidnapping children from their parents and warehousing them like criminals is reprehensible and immoral. Kidnap may seem like a strong word because we are talking about government actions after all. However, the actual definition of kidnap is “take and hold against your will,” I think there is no better word for what is happening. Mrs. Bush said that our zero-tolerance policy is one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. History and I wholeheartedly agree, but what can I do about it? I live 521 miles from the border but even if I lived closer, there is not much I can do, right?
Last week, our president created an order repealing his original order of separation. Our united outcry has made a difference and children will no longer be taken from their parents at the border. There are tons of layers to what this actually means but moving forward we each need to decide what kind of stand we are going to take.
As a nation we came together to fight a true injustice that was being perpetrated against innocent children, but now that the separation crisis is over, will things just go back to the status quo?
Will it be like it was before our government started taking children away for no other reason than nationality?
Will we turn a blind eye to the atrocities that are occurring all over the world and pretend like the humanitarian crisis on the border is just about legal and illegal ways of immigration?
When I tell people that my father was a victim of Hitler’s regime I get immediate sympathy. Hitler was a monster, and it doesn’t matter if I am talking to a liberal or a conservative, they all agree that Hitler’s reign of terror needed to end. But have things really changed that much? Are our new monsters any less vicious than Hitler and his nazis?
When the Germans invaded Holland, Queen Wilhelmina and her family escaped to London to wait out the war. Because of their position and power, they were accepted without question, and many other Dutch citizens were able to make similar immigration journeys. There are so many families who are facing the same violence and threat of death today, but how many of them are actually being allowed to do what our royal family did? Everyone agreed that Hitler needed to be stopped and the entire world came together to stop him while opening their doors to the refugees fleeing the violence, but what about those facing the horrors of war today?
Refugees coming to our country are fleeing Syria because a seven year civil war has all but devastated their country and their leader, like Hitler, is actively trying to destroy his own people. There is not a single leader who is causing the violence, drug cartels, gangs and poverty that is ravaging Central America but lives are being destroyed in the same way that lives were destroyed during WWII. Why did we cry out against Hitler but not against these same atrocities today?
In their official statement, The Salvation Army said, “The Salvation Army has long held the belief that individuals and families in need should be met with love and compassion, and those who are in a position to help have a responsibility to do so in a way that preserves the dignity and humanity of others.” This sentence is part of a much larger statement that specifically addresses the separation of families at the border, but now that this particular crisis is averted, will The Salvation Army still stand by its words?
Many of us feel like we are not in a position to help directly but wonder if there are things that we can do to help the crisis at the border. The recent reversal of the decision to separate families proves that there are things we can do to help, and with just a little self-reflection, I believe that we can all make a great difference.
Here are a few things that I would like to suggest as you personally consider your response to the humanitarian crisis on our borders.
ADMIT THAT YOU ARE POLITICALLY BIASED
It is human nature to lean one way or the other politically. Growing up in an affluent community outside of Detroit very conservative ideologies were ingrained into me. These ideologies stayed with me for a long time. Now that I have lived in San Francisco for almost 20 years, I am now much more progressive than any of my family members and frankly a little embarrassed that I was so conservative at one point. You may not care about politics as much as I do, but there are very few people in this world who have absolutely no political bias. I can admit that I have these biases and so should you.
CONCEDE THAT YOU ARE NOT AS SMART AS YOU THINK YOU ARE
I am really smart, and if you know me, you will concede the same. However there are so many things that I still have to learn, and I am wise enough to admit that I don’t know everything. I need to remember that I need to actually research the issues and not just accept everything I am hearing from my left-leaning friends. AND I need to remember that the right-wing conservatives in my life may be just as smart as I am so I should speak to them with an open heart and an open-mind. I do not make myself smarter by just soaking up everything I am told, I grow wiser by asking the right questions and doing the research.
RECOGNIZE YOUR RACIST OR BIGOTED TENDENCIES
I am one of the most open minded people I know. I have lived and worked in the inner city for most of my adult life, and I take great pride in the fact that I have a diverse group of people who surround and support me. BUT I STILL STRUGGLE WITH BIGOTRY. I am most bigoted against white suburban youth and frankly I find my bigotry kind of funny but it is still bigotry which means it is still wrong. Knowing that I am bigoted is the first step in giving my bigotry over to God and allowing Him to change my heart. I have asked God to change my heart. I still want to hold onto that white suburban youth bigotry but I promise that I am giving the rest of my racist tendencies over to God and I am encouraging you to do the same.
I have heard (or seen in writing) far too many people generalizing about the crisis and the overall state of our country. Not everyone who comes over our borders is a terrorist, drug dealer, or out to cheat our government. Likewise not every person who voted for Trump agrees with his immigration policies. Most people who are coming over the border are seeking asylum from the horrors of a war torn or cartel run country. Also most people who voted for President Trump didn’t agree with everything Trump stands for. Many of these conservatives were concerned about the direction our country was taking and voted for what they hoped would be a better path. It is when we stop generalizing that real conversations can begin and it is when we stop generalizing that we can work together.
CONFESS THAT YOU ARE NOT AS LOVING AS YOU THINK YOU ARE
I have a lot of Christian friends from all walks of life which means my friends don’t always agree with one another. I have seen far too many hurtful and hateful debates on social media and each side is convinced that they are the most loving Christian side. Once we confess that we are not as loving as we think we are we can remember that, as my son said, “Whether you are Republican, a gun-owner, fun-owner, Muslim, Buddhist, Democrat, Green Party, political, non-political, queer, not-so-queer, straight as a line, cute as a button, ugly, a peace maker, a cheese maker, a warrior, an Edward or a Jacob, bisexual, trisexual, Homosapien, Peewee Herman, Christ-follower, Christ-supporter, a lover, a dreamer, white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Latino, or Romulan…God loves you.” We all find it very easy to love a child in need but few are able to truly love the person we disagree with. God calls us to love everyone and not just the people we like.
REMEMBER THAT IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT PRAYING BUT DOING OUR PART
I am a prayer warrior. I haven’t always been but ever since I have been struck with chronic cancer, prayer is really the only tool I have. That being said, even I can do more. My father’s home was saved because people just like you and me risked their lives to help save him. There is more that we all can do to help meet the needs of the individuals and families in crisis, and when we step out in faith to do these things we should do so with love and compassion. We are ALL in a position to help during this crisis which means we ALL have a responsibility to do so in a way that preserves the dignity and humanity of others.
ORGANIZATIONS THAT NEED HELP
- RAICES, or The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.
- The Florence Project provides free legal services to detained immigrants in Arizona and is looking for donations AND volunteers. An estimated 86 percent of those detained have no legal representation while going through immigration removal proceedings. The Florence Project needs translators, researchers, and pro bono attorneys.
- Border Angels is an all volunteer, non profit organization that advocates for human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice with a special focus on issues related to the US-Mexican border.