Jakelin Caal Maquin. Felipe Alonzo-Gomez.
Seven and eight years old.
They came to our country to escape the violence and poverty of their homeland. They came in the hopes that this country would provide a safe harbor, a place to lay their heads at night that would protect them from the worst that humanity at its cruelest can serve up.
What Jakelin and Felipe learned the hard way—or at least what the families they left behind learned—is that when it comes to death, whether someone is actively trying to kill you in your hometown or someone in a foreign country is willing to stand by and watch you die, the end result is the same. Death is death no matter how you get there—and the people responsible for ensuring their safety share culpability, regardless of what they tell themselves as they drift off to sleep at night.
I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that we live in a world in which the politicians who manufactured this nightmare see this not as a failure of a flawed system, but as precisely its point.
I suspect there will be those who view this assertion as unnecessarily incendiary. “Nobody wanted those kids to die,” is what you may be saying to yourself right now. And while I agree that neither Donald Trump nor Kirstjen Nielsen picked these two children out of a kiddie lineup and said, “Those kids have got to go,” the policy they’ve implemented sees the death of Jakelin and Felipe as a necessary point to be made about the fact that the folks in charge don’t want poor people of color coming to our country. And they’re willing to allow the death of children to shine a light on their ultimate goal, which is to disincentivize immigration by those they consider undesirable.
Let that sink in. The position of our government at this moment is to broadcast to the world that even the death of children isn’t too high a price to pay to send the message that people from “s-hole countries” aren’t welcome here.
But it’s even more insidious than just pointing out that this president and his minions are xenophobic racists looking to make political hay; they created policy conditions that are literally killing children. As far as I can tell, our strategy for deterring asylum seekers from coming to our country is to convince them we’re unimaginably more awful than the violence and poverty they’re trying to escape.
So, you know, you’d better just stay put. You think murder, domestic abuse, starvation, and destitution are bad? Well then, just wait until you get a load of what we’ve got in store for you and your kids! You’re going to hate it here. We’ll make sure of it!
Now, it might be objected that government officials aren’t actively trying to make an example of these kids by engineering their deaths.
That seems reasonable … until you start pulling at the threads. The administration has been roundly criticized for warehousing those seeking asylum, prompting deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, Lee Gelernt to observe, “This is as bad a practice as I’ve seen in my career … It has such a cruel feel to it.”
Such criticism, however, is met with the calm assurances that we shouldn’t worry, because omelet-making and egg-cracking are inextricably linked. And the assumed virtuousness of the former makes the inhumanity of the latter acceptable. Indeed, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was much more straightforward: “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
Translated, the threat by a goon rhythmically smacking a baseball bat in his palm is clear: “You have some nice kids there. It’d be a shame for something to happen to them.”
I’m a pastor. And for the life of me, I honestly can’t figure out how anyone who claims a commitment to the teaching of the Hebrew prophets and the Jesus of the Gospels comes away from the realization that we’re using children (needy children of color or otherwise) as leverage in enforcing immigration policy and then says, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Jesus loves the little children—all the children of the world … as long as they don’t come to the United States looking for help.”
I don’t get it. I don’t get how people who dress up their kids to play impoverished and imperiled refugees in the Christmas Pageant at church can look at these little ones who come to us as impoverished and imperiled refugees, carrying nothing more than whatever dignity they’ve managed to salvage after walking 2,000 miles in search of safety and say, “I know Jesus probably didn’t mean prison camps in the desert when he bid the little children come to him, but that was different. We’re not Jesus.”
Perhaps, truer words …
“But neither are you, Dr. Sanctimony.”
Also true. But the fact that I’m not Jesus doesn’t relieve me of the responsibility of trying to conform my life to his expectations, instead of the other way around.
After all, it was Jesus who said, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:41–42).
Look, I know it’s difficult. But I didn’t write the book; I’m just telling you what’s in it.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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