The Shame of the Nation

The Shame of the Nation

Sunday, September 26, 2021 is the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.  Read the message of Pope Francis “Toward an Ever Wider ‘We'”

I drove halfway across the country last week.  And back.  Why? More on that below.  What did I see? Miles and miles and endless miles of big country, flat land, cornfields, cattle grazing, and yes, windmills on the flat windy prairies of Kansas and Colorado.

It’s a really big country.  There’s an incredible amount of open land across these United States.

So we have to ask this: why is a nation that is so rich in natural resources, so vast in its land, so wealthy in its material pleasures — why is this nation whipping and beating and shamefully mistreating the wretched of this earth huddled at the southern border, desperate people just trying with their last ounces of hope and personal courage to grasp their way to a place of greater safety, freedom from want and fear, freedom from the conditions that drove them from their homelands?  Why is it apparently the official policy of the United States to inflict even more physical and psychological harm on human beings who have already suffered more pain and degradation than most of us will ever know in our own lifetimes?

This week, the awful images were of Haitian refugees huddled under a bridge at the Rio Grande on the south Texas border, with some being chased and possibly whipped by mounted border patrol officers on horseback.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Thousands of Haitian migrants have been arriving to Del Rio, Texas, as authorities attempt to close the border to stop the flow of migrants. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez)

On Thursday the Biden Administration pulled the mounted border patrol from any interaction with the Haitian immigrant group.  But at the same time, Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote resigned in protest over the “inhumane” treatment of the Haitian migrants including the Biden administration’s insistence on immediately deporting the migrants back to Haiti where many have not lived for over a decade (since the horrific earthquake of 2010), and that only recently suffered another major earthquake and political assassination of the president.  Conditions in Haiti are reportedly violent, completely unstable and unable to support any kind of decent life for the thousands of refugees that the United States is flying to Port-au-Prince the Haitian capital.

Many civil right leaders and advocacy organizations have criticized the U.S. tactics regarding the Haitian refugees, from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the NAACP.

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, and Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, issued the following joint statement:

“Policies such as Title 42 [US Code section allowing deportation without due process] and expedited removal all too often deny the reality of forced migration, disregard the responsibilities enshrined in domestic and international law, and undermine the vulnerability of those against whom they are applied. These are not hallmarks of a ‘fair, orderly, and humane’ immigration system.

“As a Church at the service of all God’s people, we embrace Christ’s call to welcome the newcomer and accompany them wherever they may be. During this National Migration Week—through which we prepare to join the Universal Church in marking the World Day for Migrants and Refugees—we are especially mindful of that obligation and saddened to see such a disregard for human dignity. After all, it is in the face of each migrant that we see the face of Christ.

“We call on the U.S. government to reassess its treatment of migrants in Del Rio and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially Haitians, who face life-threatening conditions if returned to Haiti and possible discrimination if expelled to third countries. In addition to those services and works provided by many Catholic institutions, we offer our prayers for these migrants and all those seeking safety, security, and the opportunity to flourish in accordance with their God-given dignity.”

NAACP President and CEO, Derrick Johnson, released the following statement regarding the images and videos of U.S. border patrol attacking Haitian refugees with whips:“This cruelty is utterly sickening. The events that took place today are all too familiar to those that are aware of America’s ugly history. The actions we witnessed today were inhumane under the last administration, and that sentiment remains. No person fleeing poverty and hunger should be treated in this egregious manner. For far too long, the Haitian community has endured mistreatment at the hands of our nation. The administration has got to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to those seeking refuge. The actions of the U.S. border patrol are deplorable and should be investigated and reprimanded. Our country claims to be better than this — we must show it.”

Mr. Johnson is right.  The actions of the U.S. government are all too familiar when it comes to the treatment of Black and Brown human beings.  The utter lack of care or compassion, the violence, degrading treatment, callous and downright contemptuous treatment of the Haitian refugees is truly the shame of this nation.

It’s also the shame of President Biden and his administration.  Many had hoped that President Biden would bring a fresh sense of social justice to the issues of immigration, refugee status, pathways to citizenship, care and concern for the suffering of this earth.  Instead, when it comes to how the administration is treating people at the border, there seems to be almost no difference from the policies and dispositions of the prior administration.

What is it about immigrants that makes politicians lose their spines, that makes them terrified of the wingnuts who preach so much racial and ethnic hatred in this country?

Can the United States afford to take in all of those refugees? Yes. We are a very wealthy nation.  Perhaps we could pay for their housing and personal needs by making sure that just the top 25 wealthiest Americans start paying some taxes.  That should cover most of the bill!  Maybe instead of wasting billions on vanity missions to rocket into orbit for a few minutes the likes of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson could ante-up to help people on the other end of the economic spectrum. Elon Musk could join them because he spends so much of his billions on fantasies that don’t really help real people.  The list goes on.

Does the United States have room for all of those immigrants and refugees?  Seriously.  This is a very big country.  We have plenty of room to welcome and resettle more people who want to be here — in fact, with smart planning, no one would even have to worry about the NIMBY factor because with a truly creative and visionary program, new communities could emerge as they did in prior generations when waves of once-impoverished ethnic immigrants flocked to this country and built its infrastructure, its schools and universities, its corporations and its wealth.  This nation would not be as wealthy or powerful today without the labor, intellectual and economic contributions of centuries of immigrants among all races and nationalities — and the labor of enslaved Black persons who were hardly immigrants in any voluntary sense but who also made this nation great through their labor and spiritual fortitude and intellectual drive across generations.

That same drive fuels the desperate march to the border of Haitians and Salvadoreans and Mexicans; it makes the dangerous river crossing purposeful, the confrontation with mounted border patrol agents just one more obstacle to try to overcome.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, not at all.  A more just, more enlightened, more charitable nation would figure out how to help the refugees across the bridge rather than wade beneath it only to be greeted by police on horses forcing them back.   A smarter nation would figure out that helping people to resettle and build new lives is ultimately good for the nation as well as for the people, as it was in the 19th and 20th Centuries with other immigrant populations, so it can and should be in the 21st Century.  A wealthy nation with a healthy moral sense of its obligations would also act to share its wealth with those who have nothing, living the principles it loves to shout out (Life! Liberty! Pursuit of Happiness!) in real ways for the modern world.

Shame on the United States for not being that more just, more enlightened, more charitable, more moral nation when it comes to the treatment of refugees at the southern border.  We must insist that President Biden act immediately to remediate this shame and do the right thing to provide a just, humane and permanent solution to the migrants whose only desire is to find better lives for themselves and their children.

It’s a very big country.  Let’s act as big as we are.

Oh, yes, why I drove: to avoid airports, of course! Pandemic conditions still make me crowd-avoidant.  Plus it’s great to see America.  A road trip beyond the Beltway every so often is good for perspective, I highly recommend it!