Kids in cages: Our Joe McCarthy Moment?

McCarthyism in the 1950’s came to an end when an attorney named Joseph Nye Welch,  stood up to Senator Joe McCarthy and asked rhetorically: “Senator, have you no shame?”   McCarthy who saw a communist under every rock, had turned to accusing opponents often with little evidence.  People lost their livelihoods and sometimes their freedom.

It was this simple question, ‘have you no shame?’ which opened up a process of soul searching by citizens and elected officials.  With one pointed question, our nation was asked to consider the values that define who we are and more than that, who we strive to become.

Thankfully, enough people took the question to heart.  Our democracy turned from fear based behavior, to the values of decency and due process under the law.

We’ve come to such a time.  In recent months President Trump and his administration have enforced a ‘Zero-tolerance policy’ that serves to separate children from their parents who are crossing our borders without documentation. Chief of Staff, John Kelly put it this way: “Children would be separated from their parents if their families have been apprehended entering the country illegally, in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous border.”

It was reported today that nearly 2,000 children have been removed from their parents in just six weeks.  Yesterday in a Washington Post article, Laura Bush spoke out forcibly against this policy: “I live in a border state.  I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/laura-bush-separating

Could it be that President Trump has finally met his Joe McCarthy moment?

In classic Trump mode, our president is doubling down on his zero-tolerance policy.  My hope and prayer is that he has met his match in the American people.  Met his match in the collective remembering of our core values.

 

The Counter-cultural Act of Being Civil

The state of our union is fractured.  We’ve moved into camps.  Most political conservatives have rallied around the flag of Donald Trump.  Liberals and moderates are looking ahead to the mid-term elections, hoping for a check on the policies of our president.

Within my Christian community the camps are clearly defined.  Theological conservatives for the most part have embraced Mr. Trump.  Fully 82% of white evangelicals voted for him and still think he’s doing a good job.   Theological liberals and moderates like me are perplexed how our Christian sisters and brothers come to such different conclusions.

Our polarized society has led people to no longer talk with but rather talking at and about each other.  The result is that the narrative of ‘the other’ as an opponent, even an enemy, is reinforced.

What to do?  Is there a third way beyond labeling and confrontation?

Recently I participated with a small group of clergy in a meeting with leaders of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).  We had sent a letter asking for a meeting for the purpose of humanizing and better understanding one another.

To be clear I have grave concerns regarding the policies of our current administration towards undocumented immigrants.  I also know I have the capacity to view those tasked with enforcing such policies (ICE) as the opposition.

With this in mind we sent the letter asking for a meeting.  To our surprise ICE responded quickly welcoming such a meeting.  The meeting consisted of two ICE officers (one a senior official) and four clergy: a Rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Pentecostal pastor whose congregation includes recent immigrants and me (an American Baptist pastor).

For an hour we had a civil conversation.   The clergy group asked questions regarding ICE priorities and methods. We voiced areas of concern.  The ICE officers shared their perspective.

We also got to know the ICE officers as people.  My sense was that these two officers, one who had been working in ICE for over twenty years, are people of integrity, trying to enforce policies in as humane a manner as possible.

Let me be clear.  I think the policies being enforced are often inhumane.  For example, the current policy to separate children from parents at the border, as a means of discouraging immigration, is morally bankrupt https://action.aclu.org/petition/separating-families.

Yet, I think it is unfair to paint all ICE officers with a broad brush stroke.  They don’t set the policy.  They are tasked with enforcing a policy which I suspect can take a toll on their emotional and spiritual well-being.

For my part I am going to continue advocating for a more humane immigration policy.  I will continue to stand with our undocumented neighbors at risk.  My faith teaches that I can do no other.

What I won’t do is paint all ICE with a broad brush stroke. I won’t label them.  I’ll keep the officers and their families  in my prayers, as I surely keep in prayer those arrested and detained and their families.

I’ll work and pray for an immigration system that doesn’t dehumanize those seeking a better future and those tasked with enforcement.  I’ll remember that everyone has a story.

Perhaps that is the answer to becoming a more humane and unified society.  Moving beyond labels and listening to the stories of others.   In listening we discover our common humanity.