If one were looking for an occasion to convene fellow protestors, to make signs and placards, to post picket lines, and to compose protest chants, many possibilities present themselves.
For example, why aren’t we more angry and vocal about climate change, which appears to be threatening us, not in the distant future, but right now?
Why don’t we protest wealth and income inequality? One percent of our nation’s population controls an unconscionably large proportion of the country’s wealth and income and has managed to manipulate legislators and market regulations to keep that proportion growing. Shouldn’t that provoke a few sustained protests?
What about the rising cost of higher education? The de facto resegregation of many public schools? Our sky-high rates of incarceration?
So many protest-worthy circumstances, so little time.
Yet over the past several weeks, hundreds of highly charged protests have been mounted all across the country — more than 300 with 12,000 protestors, according to the president of Americans for Legal Immigration.
The object of protest? The recent surge in arrivals on our border of children who are fleeing violence in their own countries, especially Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The protestors’ position isn’t irrational. Despite the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, the United States probably can’t and shouldn’t accept all of the world’s tired and poor, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Still, the contrast between these noble sentiments and the messages on the signs carried by protestors is striking: “Send Them Back, With Birth Control”; “If You Can’t Feed Them Don’t Breed Them”; “Stop Rewarding Start Deporting”; “Secure Our Borders Not Change Diapers.”
The strident invective of these protestors is in stark contrast to compassionate responses by churches and charitable organizations that have taken more to heart Matthew 19:14, where Jesus says, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.”
Of course, despite our half-hearted aspirations toward Christian nationhood, Bible verses like these don’t achieve much traction amid the cynical politics that have attached to this border “crisis.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently said of the record-high apprehensions of immigrants from countries other than Mexico, “These are people that are coming from states like Syria that have substantial connections back to terrorist regimes and terrorist operations.”
PolitiFact Texas rated this statement a “Pants on Fire” prevarication. Perry embraces the Republican default position, which is that this “crisis” is bigger than it really is and, most important, as with everything else, it’s President Barack Obama’s fault.
But the politics obscures the fact that we’re talking about children, some of whom fled their countries because they face torture, murder or coercion into gang life. Few parents would send their kids on a dangerous trip across Mexico unless hope at home had been exhausted.
These children’s “illegality” hasn’t been established. If they arrive in the United States from countries other than Mexico or Canada, our law provides for an immigration hearing to determine their status. Obama is required to carry out the provisions of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Accordingly, he has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the current upsurge.
Predictably, Republican congressmen, always avid to obstruct, blame and embarrass Obama, refused.
Of course, money always lies close to the heart of a problem like this one. Some protestors say we shouldn’t be spending $3.7 billion on foreigners when we could spend that money at home on our own children. Their point is well-taken: according to the Department of Agriculture, 16 million American children live in households without reliable access to nutritious food. Shouldn’t we take care of our own first?
Probably. But nobody is setting aside that $3.7 billion for our own children. They’ll continue to go hungry.
CBS News reports that we spent $56 billion last year on our pets. In that context, $3.7 billion doesn’t seem like a lot to pay in order to practice a little compassion.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.