“It’s not just about having a heart. It’s about having a soul. And the soul of our country is about respecting the dignity and worth of every person. The soul of our country is about giving every person access to rights who is in our country.”
—Nancy Pelosi, discussing a House Republican bill to address the humanitarian crisis at the border
“We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school, get a job, and become Americans.'”
—George Will, stumbling uncontrollably over a rock of compassion
hen I was attending church, many moons ago, a popular saying among the congregants, one designed to initiate spiritual self-examination, went something like this:
If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
If we ask the same thing of Americans as a people (roughly 80% of whom identify themselves as Christians of one variety or another), here is some evidence we might want to consider:
I think most of us would say that if Jesus were asked those questions, he would side with the kids. At least the Jesus I was first introduced to in Sunday School. But either Jesus has changed a lot since then, or the people who tote Bibles and quote scripture and demand cultural fealty to their version of the Word of God don’t much care what side Jesus would be on, when it comes to desperate children from Central America.
And the people most likely to tote Bibles and quote verses and fashion public policy based on Iron Age ignorance—that is, Republicans—are also the ones most likely to turn against Jesus and the kids:
The responses expose a partisan rift, with 70 percent of Republicans saying Central American children should not be treated as refugees compared with 62 percent of Democrats who believe they should. On whether the United States has an obligation to accept people fleeing violence or political persecution, 66 percent of Republicans say it does not and 57 percent of Democrats say it does.
For a party that wears its Christianity on its sleeve, if not in its heart, that’s a pretty damning indictment. I guess the migrant children should thank God, first for that majority of Democrats, and then for that 30% or so of Republicans who take their Christianity, not to mention their American values, seriously. But maybe I’m being too hard on the folks in that particular poll. Perhaps average people, even average Republicans, shouldn’t be expected to think through these kinds of issues with Jesuitical precision.
But Paul Ryan, who is not an average person, should.
Ryan, who is a Roman Catholic with a reputation for Big Ideas, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press this past weekend and he was asked the following question about the kids who have come here from Central America:
DAVID GREGORY: Do you think these children and others, tens of thousands of them, should be sent back home?
REP. PAUL RYAN: Yes, I do. Otherwise the humanitarian crisis will continue. Otherwise families in countries far away, on the other side of Mexico, will be giving thousands of dollars to traffickers to take their children over the border and the humanitarian crisis will get worse…
That kind of thinking is fairly prevalent on the right (some Democrats, at one time including President Obama, have expressed a similar idea, too, but few do so today, and Obama is tinkering with a much better idea). Just this morning I heard another tightfisted Tea Party congressman, Matt Salmon of Arizona (who seriously argued in 1999 that Ronald Reagan’s mug should be carved into Mount Rushmore!), say that he believes,
…the most effective deterrent would be to immediately repatriate those children back to their homes and reunite them in their countries with their families, and that’s what we’re planning to do…and it costs less money to actually move the children back home and bolster the border than it does to indefinitely put them up in the United States while they wait for a trial three to five years from now.
You can see how the concern is not immediately with the children who are here, but with sending a message to people who may come here sometime in the future. And while we all ought to be concerned about the dangerous conditions under which these folks travel to America, and while we all ought to be concerned about the deplorable conditions that exist in their home countries, conditions that drive them to seek refuge in the United States, we cannot ignore the duty we have toward the kids who are here, the duty we have to honor our own laws and the values behind them, and the duty we have to justice itself.
Those who are seeking to send the children back as soon as possible are really, quite cynically and deplorably in my view, using the kids as messengers to send a very stern and un-American message to other desperate people: you are not welcome here. They are using weary and frightened kids as a means to an end. And even if the end was somehow justified, even if the message was less harsh, even if the message was “don’t make the journey because it is dangerous and ultimately pointless,” using the children who are already here to send that message would be immoral and un-American, not to say ungodly.