Within The Law, But On The Wrong Side Of History

If you are knowingly hurting children, there is something wrong with you, whether or not you have the law on your side.

The Trump deportations have begun. It is not yet clear how far he and Jeff Sessions will go, but the president has promised to deport anyone deemed a criminal and, to many of his supporters, anyone residing in this country without the proper documentation is, by definition, a criminal — regardless of how long they’ve been here or how hard they’ve worked or how much they’ve contributed or how many they will leave behind.

We are a nation of laws. Not a nation of kindness or moral principles or logic, though we might like to believe that our laws are kind, moral, and logical.

So those of us opposed to the mass deportations Trump has promised — and his followers have urged — do not have a legal argument with which to challenge them. At least none that I’m aware of, though I’m not a lawyer.

There are strong moral arguments for letting a lot of these people stay—especially those who have committed no crimes (no serious ones) and who violated our immigration laws for the sake of their children and worked hard and sacrificed and whose children have done the same. Many such children have come through my classroom and I am heartbroken to imagine any of them or their parents being expelled from my country. I am ashamed of the heartlessness such action would express. There is also a moral argument for giving special consideration to people whose cheap labor has benefited my state’s economy (and that of other states) for many years. There’s a moral argument for helping those who’ve been driven from their country by poverty and violence they had no part in causing — it is an argument that ought to move those who call themselves Christians.

Politics and policies born of resentment cannot be good for the soul of our country.

Trump and his supporters have their own moral arguments. They say we must put America and Americans first. Of course these phrases express geographic ignorance, since many of the people they wish to expel are, in fact, Americans (the U.S. being but one country in America). But we know what they mean. Why should citizens of the United States be sympathetic to people from other places when so many of our own people are struggling so mightily? One can argue that undocumented individuals are not actually taking away jobs or other resources from those born here, but it’s a tough sell to someone whose financial fortunes have collapsed in the last five or ten or twenty years. The students in my classroom who were brought here or born to parents who came here will almost uniformly go further than those parents and enjoy prosperity far beyond that of those parents. It is not surprising that they are resented by those Americans (of the U.S. variety) whose prospects are far less than those of their parents and grandparents.

But politics and policies born of resentment cannot be good for the soul of our country. Nor can any law — ANY LAW ANYWHERE — that, for any reason, hurts children. If you are knowingly hurting children, there is something wrong with you, whether or not you have the law on your side.

Every year the school at which I teach enrolls students in my classes and whoever those children are I teach the hell out of their class for them — and so do most of my colleagues.

When you work with kids you don’t decide who deserves to be taught and encouraged. Where they come from and how they got here just doesn’t matter. I once taught the grand-daughter of a Nazi who’d escaped to El Salvador after World War II. The girl owed me no apology or explanation. Just her best effort and her homework on time — most of the time.

So I am not sympathetic to those who wish to punish the children of those who snuck into our country — or those who came on false pretenses.

I wish that Jeff Sessions and his ICE men and women would restrict their deportations to serious criminals — those no country wants. Why are federal agents wasting time and resources on people who’ve committed minor crimes? Are such actions any better than a municipality shutting down a lemonade stand because of a city ordinance?

Here’s an idea: if the crime of an undocumented immigrant does not exceed the crime of Jeff Sessions himself (perjury, that is) then let them stay. And if the harm of the deportation exceeds the harm of the deportee’s crime then let’s have a little collective heart.

We are a nation of laws but if those laws are being used to harm people for political expedience by indulging bigotry and ethnic paranoia, then those laws do not deserve out respect and the politicians exploiting them do not deserve our support.

Those who deported Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the 1930s were within the law — but on the wrong side of history.

Those who interned Japanese Americans in the 1940s were within the law — but on the wrong side of history.

Those who forced Native American children into border schools to assimilate them were within the law — but on the wrong side of history.

Trump and Sessions are within the law — at least they are on immigration enforcement — but their cruelty is dragging us all onto the wrong side of history.

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