It is altogether fitting and proper that the key concern with the Trump administration’s immigration policy is the separation of children from their families. As it pertains to what is a misdemeanor crime, that policy is unconscionable and utterly despicable on every level. And, while the buck must stop at Trump’s desk, this administration is busily trying to pass it both upward and leftward, simultaneously. Meanwhile, an ineffectual Congress has failed to bring this sorry chapter in American history to a close, and must shoulder much of the blame for enabling Trump, themselves.
Lost in the finger pointing, twitter storming, xenophobic fascist ranting of Trump and his minions, are two key questions which have thus far gone un-asked by the media and by the American people. The questions are simple; the answers could speak volumes about the nation we are becoming and the future we might have to endure.
A few days ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her function as Trump’s Press Secretary, conducted a press conference in which she was repeatedly asked to explain the policy of removing illegal immigrant children from their parents. She never managed to give a plausible explanation, and confused the actual law with administration policy. At one point, still referring to their policy as law, she stated that “it is very biblical to enforce the law.” Coming on the heels of Jeff Sessions’ citing of the bible and Romans 13, “to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes” (a verse that has previously been used as a defense for slavery), the first of our questions should have immediately been asked by the assembled press.
That question is simply, this: In a nation established on many principles, one of which is a strict separation of church and state, how can any policy of our government be justified by an interpretation of bible doctrine?
The bible has no more place in the workings of our government than your daily horoscope or the fortune cookie from your lunch. Ultimately, basing our system of government on the bible or any other manner of religious text, amounts to the abrogation of the single most important of our rights, the third article of the Bill of Rights:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That third article is at once the one that establishes our individual freedom to practice a religious faith, or to not practice one at all. Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Druid or atheist, all are equal and all are free to practice their religion free from interference by the government. It is, in equal parts, a freedom of religion (ours) and a freedom from religion (yours). For that reason, for the sake of living in a nation where all of us are created and treated equally, religion must be kept out of the running of our government. This is an issue which should be of the utmost importance to atheist and believer alike. Once a nation adopts a state sponsored religion, all others are subject to censure (think Iran) and those people “not of the faith” become blasphemers.
What is the current administration really doing by citing the bible as justification of their policies? They are passing the buck, upward. That buck which should stop at Trump’s desk is now laid at the feet of God. “God says that this should be so.” Folks, this is the first rung on the ladder leading to a Christian form of Sharia law. It is the process by which the necessary humanity of our law is pushed aside and our lawmakers are absolved of all responsibility or culpability for inhumane practices and policies. It is also well worth noting that the areas of bible doctrine most frequently quoted come from the Old Testament, the “thou shalt nots” which routinely strip civil liberties from those governed.
The second question, which has yet to be pressed upon the administration, is one which, when answered thoughtfully, would reframe our understanding of the underlying implications of this malign policy. Why are we vilifying and turning away these immigrants at this point in time?
The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that these immigrants bring with them criminal behavior, and more importantly, take jobs away from American workers. Neither of these allegations holds any water.
A 2016 article from the Migration Policy Institute (link below), indicates that of the 11 million people living in this country illegally, some 820,000 of them possess a criminal record, but only 300,000 of them have a felony conviction and 390,000 were serious misdemeanants whose crimes merited modest jail time or community service. In terms of percentages, 7.5% of the illegals in this country have some manner of criminal record, 2.7% have a felony conviction and 3.5% have a misdemeanor with jail time. By comparison, about 8.6% of the American adult population has a felony conviction. All things considered, your illegal immigrant neighbor is somewhat more likely to raise the quality of behavior in your neighborhood, not lower it.
That leaves us with the jobs which illegal immigrants are scamming from honest, hard-working Americans. What jobs are those? Operating under the assumption that these illegal immigrants are coming into this country without papers and are not on the social security rolls, the jobs that they are taking are predominantly “under the table,” working as restaurant help, picking fruits and vegetables, serving as day laborers, and usually, working for less than minimum wage. What American wants those jobs? What American could afford to live on those jobs?
When we frame the question, “Why is illegal immigration a problem, right now?,” we should look backward and ask, “Has it been a problem, before?” During the 1950’s, ’60’s and ’70’s, it was not perceived as a problem. Back then, the average American household did quite well on a single wage-earner’s income, bought a house, fed a family, paid its bills and sent kids to college. Immigrant laborers brought down the costs of our fruit and vegetables, and our dinners out. But illegal immigration was perceived as a problem in the 1930’s, during the depression and dustbowl era, when millions of American citizens had no jobs and were struggling just to make ends meet for their next meal. When American workers had to pick cotton, fruit and vegetables because there were no other jobs, and were willing to do so for starvation wages, then those immigrant workers became unwanted competition. And here we are today, where families with two wage earners are having a hard time paying their bills, are renting because they can’t afford to buy, or are watching their homes being foreclosed upon as their savings erode. Truth be told, if we take the long view of the American standard of living (despite the assurances of this and prior administrations), it has been in a reasonably steady decline for the past forty years. If our leaders were to reverse this trend by bringing meaningful jobs to this country and putting us back on top of the heap as an industrial superpower, the concerns about migrant labor would vanish overnight.
As much as I hate to do so, I have to quote Bill Clinton on this one; “It’s the economy, stupid.” Of course, Clinton did his own part to wreck that same economy, send our jobs overseas and, in his own way, pin the blame on the immigrant. This is not a problem owned solely by Trump; his is just the most malicious approach to it.
The problem is that the trend in our nation toward a service economy based on crappier and crappier, low paying jobs, is not one which is likely to be reversed, any time soon. The stranglehold on wealth in this country which sees it moving inexorably to the top, based on fossil fuels, big pharma, health care, armaments, war and the variants of the insurance industries, is only tightening. American jobs are not coming home from overseas. And now we can add to that shortlist, the physical management of human beings. Under Clinton, we saw the advent of the privatized prison system, one in which many of our leaders (including Attorney General Jeff Sessions) are reputedly invested. There is a lot of money to be made in the incarceration business. And right now, there are people and corporations making large sums of money separating children from their parents in policy maneuvers which strive to make felonious that which were previously misdemeanor crimes.
It is up to us to demand of our journalists, our fourth estate which purportedly is there to keep us informed and hold our leaders accountable, that they ask the questions that really matter, the ones that point to the underlying truths about the workings of our government and the influence over same that wealthy corporations, individuals and institutions hold. Too often, those journalists are striving for the sensational, because it sells papers (and more importantly, advertising). But it is in the nitty-gritty details that we find the mechanisms shaping our own future. What will that future be? One where justice is meted out based on a 2000 year old text? One of detention camps, work camps and xenophobia run amuck? That decision is still ours, if we have the fortitude to make it.
Bill Clinton on illegal immigration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swtDFqaXy6Y