I think most of us have been there. It is a beautiful day and you are driving down the road listening to your favorite tunes, conversing with your family members. Suddenly you see a blue flashing light behind you and realize you are about to be detained by an officer of the law. You pull over, try to stop your heart from pounding, and begin searching for your driver’s license and auto registration. The officer comes over to your window and says, “Do you know why I stopped you?” You reply, “I’m not quite sure.” You go through the drill…license…registration….
The officer says, “Please wait in your vehicle.” Before you know it, the officer has returned and says to you, “You know I got you on radar doing 45 in a 35 mile an hour zone.” You reply, “I’m very sorry, I thought the limit had shifted to 45 a few miles back.” The officer then says, “Please, this is an area where it can be dangerous to drive at that speed. There are school busses that come through here and the locals cross the road planning on drivers doing the correct speed limit. Our town wants you and your family to be safe. I am just giving you a warning. Please proceed with more caution and watch the signage more carefully. Have a wonderful day!” You breathe a sigh of relief and comment on the kindness and courtesy of the officer. You go on your way with a new found attentiveness, grateful for the officer’s understanding and good advice.
Just for a moment, let’s think of the same scenario, except when the officer returns to your vehicle he demands that you and your family get out of the car and be hand-cuffed and frisked. He says, “I am taking you into custody. You broke the law. You were speeding by driving 45 miles an hour in a 35 mile an hour zone. A fellow officer removes your 2-year-old from the carseat and hands the toddler to another officer who has arrived to take custody of the child. Your grandmother who is in the back seat is hand-cuffed and taken to the other cruiser. You ask the officer, “Why is my family being arrested for my crime?” The officer curtly replies, “It is a law passed by the United States Congress.” The officer continues, “If you don’t like the law, tell Congress to change it. I am only here to enforce the law. That is my job to lock up all you lawbreakers.” You and your family have been separated and quickly taken to jail, you are detained and must face prosecution to the full extent of the law. You don’t know where your child or grandmother have been taken. You begin to think of ways to retaliate and possibly break more laws.
I know that immigration law is complicated. I realize that the security of our borders is an important value to protect. Still, my heart is troubled by the fact that our country appears to be on a slippery slope which begins with disrespect for certain persons, and is provoking greater acts of violence. I am concerned that our federal administration is focused on “enforcing” (or is it exploiting) the laws that exist rather than applying those laws humanely.
I value law. It is a glue that keeps our society functioning, when differences of opinion are expressed. I also know that there are many debates over the morality of some of our current laws. The debates over abortion, same sex marriage, and other hot button issues challenge, whether a law can be valid if it supports acts thought to be immoral. To frame the argument in another way, should all laws generate from one particular moral perspective or is the law developed to assist in the recognition of an unwritten moral imperative? I’m not here to participate in that debate. There are persons, much wiser than I, who will cover that topic completely. I am merely pondering that, if we were more careful of our language, would it not change our attitudes and contribute to what “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? St. Paul called those the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder, if our administration dedicated itself to applying the law in a humane way (as the officer in the first scenario did) could we still accomplish our goal of a safer border and care for those seeking asylum? I believe that our current administration may be too focused on enforcing the law (as the officers in the second scenario did). Could this hard-line “zero tolerance” policy be promoting even more civil unrest and disobedience? What if the focus was application of the law and not enforcement. Would a simple word change inspire our government to a different way of dealing with troublesome or dangerous situations?
I would have to agree with many of our first ladies, including Melania Trump, that children are precious and need to be protected and nurtured by responsible parents. We need law, but we also need “heart” and wisdom in our application of that law.
In my own deliberations, I often force myself to play devil’s advocate. Therefore, I have asked myself is our administration applying the wisdom of Solomon, instructing that a baby be cut in half, to determine who is the rightful mother? However, because of the general rhetoric of this administration, I find myself thinking that there is a more sinister political agenda behind this most recent zero-tolerance enforcement of law. Much of what is publicly said today is directed against human beings (particularly poor human beings) with an arrogant and cruel cynicism. The emphasis is generally placed on force and power.
I am old enough to know that, in the short-term, there is little I can do to make sweeping changes to this current situation, but there is much I can do. I can read…read…read…the various political perspectives and research the statistics that are quoted (most often without any sources). I can notify my congressional representatives, based upon my own research and conscience. I can support groups who have the knowledge and wisdom to address this issue more concretely. I can financially support any agency that reaches out to help and understand the life of a refugee/detainee. I can spend time looking for other ways to promote the America I want for my grandchildren.
For the health of my own psyche, I must also look toward the long haul and not lose hope for the return of a more diplomatic outreach to all those who cross legal lines. I can try to understand why our current administration shakes hands with a known murderer and self-aggrandizing dictator, but can not proactively reach across our borders to find a better solution?
For now, I will focus on the action that is most helpful for our world. I will smile at a stranger, and reach out my hand to a neighbor in need. I will try to understand the fear and xenophobia, which is fueling the hateful and angry rhetoric. I will make every effort to be truthful and kind in my thoughts, words, and actions. I will read and research to try to sort through the political rhetoric and hyperbole. I will praise those who work so hard to make and apply humane laws, and call to task those who abuse wealth, power, and position. In all things my foundational anthem will be “Do unto others, as you would have done unto you.”