A Problematic Protest Against Family Separation at the Border

People participate in a protest against a recent U.S. immigration policy of separating children from their families when they enter the United States as undocumented immigrants, outside the Tornillo Tranist Center, in Tornillo
Last night I attended an event which had as its purpose protesting the separation of families at the border by President Trump.

I grew angrier and angrier and then felt I could do nothing but cry.

Not because of the situation at the border which has kept me angry for a good 12 years.
But because the event was an opportunity wasted.

Poems read about Europe in the 1930s.

But no mention of ICE.

Talk of the need for a Democrat blue wave with no apparent knowledge that Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jeh Johnson, Cecilia Muñoz, were among the architects of the horror we are witnessing.

But no mention of separating Madison County, Alabama from ICE.

No mention of the notorious Etowah Immigrant Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama at the very moment when there are demonstrations against ICE going on around the country at ICE facilities.

Talk of the moral high ground we think we occupy.

Vapid, pointless signs. (I pulled the one above from the internet.)

No mention of the 400,000 per year quota on deportations.

Which Obama carried out.

No mention of the Federal contract to keep 34,000 beds filled with immigrant detainees each and every day.

Which Obama carried out.

No mention of the separation of 1,000 families by ICE that very day.

And every other day in America.

The bad guys are bad guys out of malice.
The good guys are bad guys out of arrogance.
Warren Harding once said, “Its not my enemies that keeping me walking the floor at night. Its my friends. Its my goddam friends.”

Dear President Obama, Turn The Grief-Bearing Ship Around

The Wall, Sasabe, fence and barrier

 

In a different form, this article originally appeared in the Mobile Press Register, 2011. Altered, it appeared in Patheos.com, August 29, 2014.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2014/08/an-open-letter-to-president-obama-and-members-of-the-united-state-congress-turn-the-grief-bearing-ship-around/

Dear President Obama and Members of Congress,

I am a Baptist Minister to the Community. My ministry focuses on the production of a migrant justice documentary, narrated by Martin Sheen, called The Second Cooler. I first felt called to make the documentary because I was heartbroken for the families, especially the mothers, whose children died under the blazing Arizona sun as they were trying to cross the heavily militarized border into the United States.

Through a terrible twist of fate, I joined them in grief.

On the night of April 17, 2009, my sixteen year old daughter, Leigh Anna, and her precious boyfriend were killed by a drunk driver in Huntsville. The car exploded on impact and Leigh Anna’s tiny body was consumed by flames. The driver was an undocumented migrant from Mexico.

My family and I lost a lot that night. A daughter, an only sister, a granddaughter, the son-in-law we might have had, grandchildren, an aunt, cousins. And on that fiery night we became one of the broken families with broken hearts and broken dreams.

One of my favorite memories of Leigh Anna was the day, about two years before her death, when she went with me to Athens. The Ku Klux Klan was holding an anti-immigrant protest. We went to participate in a counter-protest. I remember her holding a neon-yellow sign, as big as she was, that had one word written on it in big, black letters: LOVE.

I have my memories, but I grieve and I grieve and I grieve.

There is nothing special about my grief. It is no different from that of the young mother in Huntsville whose infant was suffocated by an anxious coyote in that treacherous southwestern desert. Or the grandparents of other children who have died of the brutal cold there, alone and scared. Or of the children whose fathers have been snatched from them and put into deportation. Or the mothers now making plans for someone else to take their children if they should be deported.

And I am reminded of Mary, prostrate with grief at the foot of her crucified son.

I am reminded that recklessness does not belong only to drunk drivers. Or to police officers engaged in high-speed chases.

Recklessness also belongs to the powers, princes, and potentates who wash their hands of the grieving people they accept as the collateral damage of their policies and programs. Who wash their hands of the broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams.

And as I think long thoughts about Leigh Anna and that reckless night, I recall that I worship the God who said, “No!” to Pharaoh and his recklessness. The God who said, “No!” to Nebuchadnezzar and his recklessness. The God who said “No!” to Caesar and his recklessness.

I worship the God of the Exodus, the God of protection for those in fiery furnaces, the God of Resurrection. The God who takes sides with the broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams. The God who defies expectations and delights in dramatic reversals.

I remember Saul on the road to Damascus who heard a voice saying, Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” And he encountered himself in that profound moment and Saul became Paul, announcing the reality of the God who had effected the dramatic reversal, the dramatic “No!” to Caesar, the dramatic Resurrection.

And I recall John Newton, steering his deadly ship filled with desperate, grieving human beings bound for slavery. And that in an unexpected moment John Newton encountered himself on that alien sea, encountered his own recklessness, turned around his ship with its cargo of broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams unsold, and wrote those endlessly beautiful words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

President Obama and members of the United States Congress, in the days and weeks ahead, the political talk and strategizing about “comprehensive immigration reform” will resume. In its guise as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, “reform” is a deadly ship, a ship filled with nothing but more broken families, more broken hearts, and more broken dreams.

But I believe you already know this. In your efforts to further militarize our southwestern border with this package, carelessly disregarding the more migrants who are sure to lose their lives there, you already know you are being reckless with other people’s lives. In your effort to extend the system of indentured servitude duplicitously called the Guest Worker Program, you already know you are being reckless with other people’s lives. In your effort to push all undocumented people into the deportation system under the guise of a “path to citizenship”, you already know you are being reckless with other people’s lives.

I am asking you to encounter yourselves as did Paul and John Newton and turn this deadly grief-bearing ship around. I am asking you to reject political calculating with other people’s lives and begin working for justice.

 

Why I Do Not Call Out Trump

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In case it matters, several people have asked me why I do not publicly call out Trump for his language about Mexicans and deportation. The reason is simple: it seems self evident that Trump is an obnoxious, foul-mouthed, racist, sexist, homophobic, crude, ignorant, dishonest, narcissistic, dangerous creep.

In addition, it has never been my habit or my interest to call out people with whom I have little or no association. By that I mean that I am a Democrat so I tend to be critical of other Democrats — especially those in power.

 

So, yes, I call out Obama rather than Trump at this moment in time. Obama has deported 2.8 million people. Few Democrats (those I hear from) seem to care. Trump has deported none. One has a record on deportation; the other does not. Trump’s rhetoric about Mexicans is over the top crude. Yet, Obama has had his abusive rhetoric, too — “they don’t play by the rules” — when he knows full well there are no rules to play by.

Whether this is right or wrong on my part, I am not in a position to say.

To draw a parallel, I was never the parent who continually pointed out or obsessed over the wrong-doings of other people’s kids. I was always more interested in whether my own kids were doing right. I felt that was my duty and where I could have the most impact. It was also out of love for them. I wanted the best for them.

However, if anyone needs me to say it (and I’m always surprised anybody really cares what I think or say): I dislike Trump and his rhetoric immensely. And I am distressed that America produced him and has allowed him to get this close to the Presidency.

Comparing Politicians to Christ: Facts, Please

 

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Dr. Russell Moore

It is not often that Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC], and I agree. He opposes same sex marriage and abortion, for example. I support same sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose. When I officiated at Madison County, Alabama’s first same sex wedding, that started a chain of events that led to the church with which I am associated to be “disfellowshipped” by the SBC. Typically, Moore and I do not agree on much.

However, prominent Christian pastors on both the left and right have publicly supported their favorite politicians – comparing them to Christ. Here is where Moore and I agree – if you are going to compare a politician to Christ, you need to back up your comparison with facts.

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Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Several days ago, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University endorsed Donald Trump. He gushed, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment”.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Moore demonstrated that Falwell’s praise is at odds with the facts of Trump’s life. He wrote,

[Trump] revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the ‘top women in the world’ [and that Trump] is a casino and real estate mogul who has built his careers off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily.

Similarly, Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew and conservative host of the popular radio show, The Line Of Fire, wrote this op-ed for the Christian Post. In it he quoted a colleague:

I just don’t understand how a true Christian can so easily dismiss all this … wife posed nude, married three times, nasty, crude, cruel, proud, dishonest, manipulative, casino owner and promoter, bankrupted several companies, ‘hates’ abortion but agrees to make it legal, gutter mouth … and on and on and on.

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Donald Trump

Citing Trump’s attacks on those he happens to dislike at the moment, Brown asks,

be it Megyn Kelly or Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush or Rosie O’Donnell – attacks in which he behaves more like a spoiled, petulant child than a presidential candidate, how [can Falwell] point to his Christ-like character?

In other words, Moore and Brown are addressing the facts of Trump’s life and career. These facts fly in the face of claims that Trump is the embodiment of Christ from a conservative Christian, personal morality point of view.

There are equally extravagant claims being made by progressive Christians. John Pavlovitz, a pastor and blogger with millions of followers, recently said in the Huffington Post that President Obama has “in effect out-Jesused many of his Conservative Christian critics”. Obama, he wrote, has “championed justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people in a way that closely resembles the stated mission of Christ”.

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Rev. John Pavlovitz

Among other claims, Pavlovitz said that Obama

has vigorously defended the civil rights of all human beings, has challenged us to be hospitable to refugees and immigrants, and has called out corporate lobbyists and big business special interests that have crippled the middle class and widened the income gap between the richest and poorest.

These claims are factually inaccurate if not downright preposterous. The most cursory glance at his policies should make that clear.

Despite his campaign promise, for example, Obama did not close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where some prisoners have been held for decades without being charged. Among the detainees’ basic rights, which Obama has failed to champion in any meaningful way, are the rights of habeus corpus, a US and international principle providing the right to challenge the legality of one’s arrest, and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution which provides the right to a “speedy and public trial”.

Then there is the matter of Obama’s foreign policy. Jeremy Scahill, a national security correspondent for The Nation and for Democracy Now!, traces the expansion of covert wars in countries ranging from Somalia to Pakistan. He says that

particularly in the Obama administration . . . . we’ve returned to the kind of 1980s way of waging war, where the US was involved in all these dirty wars in Central and Latin America, in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and beyond.

For example, he says, the US and Obama are “using proxies, that effectively are death squads, in Somalia to hunt down people the US has determined are enemies . . . . [and] mercenary forces in various wars, declared and undeclared, around the world.”

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King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa

Similarly, Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, wrote “Obama’s Troubling Counterterrorism Allies: Dictators”. Hiatt detailed Obama’s alarming embrace of Syria’s Bashar-Al-Assad, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa, and Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov. Hiatt calls Al-Assad the “bloodiest butcher of this young century”.

He goes on to say that Al-Sisi has “killed and imprisoned opponents with a brazenness Hosni Mubarak never dreamed of,” that when Al Kahlifa “cracks down on peaceful dissidents, the United States barely notices”, and that Karimov “presides over a closed society of prison camps and forced labor.”

As for being “hospitable to refugees and immigrants”, as Pavlovitz asserts, that has been anything but true of Obama with the exception of his recent welcome of Syrian refugees. Obama supports further militarizing the United States / Mexico border which was militarized to prohibit Mexicans and others displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] from coming to the US. Militarization has taken a minimum of 6,000 migrants’ lives.

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President Barack Obama

Obama has earned the derogatory nickname “Deporter in Chief” among Latinos because under him deportations sky-rocketed, ripping some 2.5 million people from their families. Deportations have left over 5,000 children stranded in foster care and forced other US citizens into exile to be with their deported husband or father. He has deported asylum-seeking Central Americans which has cost 83 their lives, according to London’s newspaper, The Guardian. And, according to the Washington Post, his administration failed to protect thousands of other Central American children, placing them in the hands of human traffickers or abusive caretakers in the U. S.

As for Pavlovitz’s claim that Obama has “called out corporate lobbyists and big business special interests” one needs only to look at his support for free trade agreements [FTAs] to know that is inaccurate. He signed FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and has been negotiating vigorously for the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP]. As I demonstrated in my film, The Second Cooler, NAFTA not only pushed some 2 million Mexican peasants off their lands and into migration, it allowed good-paying jobs in the United States to be sent overseas. Displacement of peoples is inherent to FTAs which push people off their lands and out of their jobs in order to fulfill the goal of “opening up markets.”

Economic researchers with Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute have projected that the TPP would likely lead to the loss of 448,000 US jobs and cause labor’s share of income to decline by 1.3%. This necessarily would increase the gap between rich and poor and widen inequality. The researchers found that while the US job market will suffer the most, the TPP would lead to 771,000 job losses over the next 10 years in the member nations.

FTAs, however, are about more than opening up markets, displacement of peoples, and the offshoring of good paying jobs. Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, has called trade deals “backdoor financial deregulation,” a “power tool to demolish financial stability policies,” and part of the establishment of an “investor-state” system. She concludes that the TPP and other FTAs are mainly about “new rights for corporations and new constraints on governments’ non-trade regulatory policy space”.

Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes about markets for the New York Times, voiced similar concerns. She wrote that “trade agreements might well be read as an invitation to fight financial regulation”. She points out that Ecuador in 2011 asked that World Trade Organization to allow it to preserve its ability to create regulations to ensure “the integrity and stability of the financial system”. But the proposal was rejected by trade representatives in the U. S., the European Union, and Canada.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in economics to surmise that it is the middle class that suffers the most from these deals.

Christian pastors and bloggers have the right to endorse or support any candidate and any president they wish, but Russell Moore and I agree on this: when Christian leaders compare the president or a presidential hopeful to Christ, they must backup their claims with facts. We may disagree on which facts are or are not critical, but they must be backed up. Other people’s lives are hanging in the balance.