The “What Kind of Country Do We Want to Be?” Question

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. —1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees


First, let us be very clear about a few things:

  1. This has nothing to do with enforcing our laws. Seeking asylum is not a criminal act. People have a right to come to the United States and make a petition. The right to seek asylum is a recognized principle of international law and has been recognized in the United States for decades. When somebody shows up on our doorstep asking for asylum, we do not have to give it to them. But we do have to consider the request and treat the people making it as fellow human beings.  They are not criminals. They have broken no laws. And they are entitled to the same due process that we must constitutionally afford anybody over whom we assert our jurisdiction.
  2. This has nothing to do with jobs or the economy. We have acute labor shortages in our agricultural sector right now, and it is getting worse. Nobody involved in the current immigration debate has asked, or even appears to care, whether or not we currently allow enough immigration into our country to meet the needs of our economy. The point is to be tough on immigrants and asylum seekers because that is politically popular–not because it is economically necessary or even fiscally responsible. Border security theatre is a political issue not a national-security concern.
  3. This has nothing to do with being a nation that espouses religious values. The current practice of separating children and their parents is wrong from just about every conceivable system of religion or morality. For those who happen to be Christian, it is a fundamental rejection of perhaps the most important religious obligation that we have: the responsibility to care for the stranger among us. And for those who happen to be Latter-day Saints, it is a rejection of the Church’s official position on immigration, the second point of which is “the importance of keeping families intact.” To tear children away from their parents at our border, we must actively reject the pretense of being a religious people

This has almost nothing to do with what we are arguing about and everything to do with the most important question that we must collectively ask ourselves every generation: What kind of country do we want to be?

Do we want to be an isolated industrial nation or a or a world military power? That was the question for the generation that fought World War II. Do we want to be a nation of equal laws and equal rights or an apartheid state? That was what we had to answer during the Civil Rights Era.

Immigration is shaping up to be our generation’s ‘What kind of country do we want to be?’ question.

As many have pointed out, we have a long tradition of being a nation of immigrants. That is true, but “What kind of country have we been?” is not quite the same question as, “What kind of country do we want to be?” Immigration policies that made sense when we had a small population and huge tracts of land do not necessarily make sense for a nation of 300,000,000 people and limited resources.

By the same token, though, the reactive nativism that now defines American politics makes little sense for a country experiencing acute labor shortages in its most crucial sectors. Our current immigration policy is so driven by ideology that it cannot ask the very pragmatic question, “How many people should we allow to immigrate legally?”

In the current historical moment, the question has become all tangled up with another important question, which is, “How should we treat human beings who come to our country seeking refuge?” This question has nothing to do with building walls, or securing the border, or preventing people from breaking our laws. We can do all of that and still be decent human beings and treat people with dignity. Inhumane treatment is not necessary. It is not even a byproduct of anything necessary. It is a strategy designed to deter immigration. Cruelty, in other words, is not tragic necessity. It is the entire point of the exercise. That is the country that some people want us to be.

Turning this into an issue of border security misses almost everything about the point. The families that have been ripped apart and detained are not evidence of a border that we have failed to secure. It is precisely because we do secure the border that they have been arrested and detained trying to cross it. Intentional cruelty is not necessary to secure the border.

The people coming to the United States are fleeing very real problems in Central America: drug gangs, sexual violence, human trafficking, extreme poverty — a good deal of which stems directly from America’s past economic policies and current drug laws. They are coming here because they believe that our country is more compassionate than the countries they are leaving. They are refugees in the purist sense of the word. They are seeking refuge.

And they have a right to knock on our door without having their children taken away–or without being turned back before they even make their case because the hell that they have lived through was not produced by the enemies that happen to be out of favor with the administration. They have a right to be treated with compassion and dignity. Our government has decided to deny them this right, and to do it in the name of the American people.

Our government, in our name, has determined that our immigration policy can have no room for compassion, decency, or the integrity of families. It has decided to use cruelty and state-sponsored terror as stage props in its cynical security theatre.

This is not the kind of country that any of us should want to be.


  1. Amen. These policies and practices are shameful. Taking children away from asylum seeking parents or even illegal immigrants is actually evil. As a father of five children, I very strongly witness to the depravity inherent in issuing such a policy. This is a characteristic of some of the worst regimes in history.

  2. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The obvious answer to the question in the title is: a white one.

    Make no mistake, this is at the root of everything that Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller do. You can try to dress it up any way you want, but this is much about the fear of a non-white-majority United States (coming in 25-30 years, Trumpistas!) as the detention of Middle Eastern refugees on remote Pacific islands is an attempt to resurrect the White Australia Policy under different garb. The reason that this policy has been allowed to go forward while other parts of the White American Policy have stalled is that refugees have a lot less lobbying power than, say, the companies that hire programmers and engineers on H-1B visas.

  3. Kristine says:

    I feel like a lot of Mormons have forgotten something they knew in Primary:

    “Lamanites met others who were seeking liberty,
    And the land soon welcomed all who wanted to be free…
    Book of Mormon stories say that we must brothers be,
    Given this land if we live righteously.”

  4. Kristine, good point. And given the Church’s multiple official statements on the importance of immigration policies that keep families together, we could even get to the right answer (this time) if we just remember

    “Follow the Prophet
    Follow the Prophet
    Follow the Prophet
    He knows the way.”

  5. My first response to this post is a rousing Amen. Thanks, Mike.

    My second response is a terrible fear of what this thread is going to teach me, yet once more, about some of my coreligionists, people who purport to profess the name of Jesus.

  6. jaxjensen says:

    “How many people should we allow to immigrate legally?” Many more than we currently do.

    “How should we treat human beings who come to our country seeking refuge?” With respect and dignity, but also with a healthy amount of suspicion. It seems totally reasonable to me to ask why somebody fleeing for safety would pass through multiple different locations without asking for asylum in those places first. So, if you are from Honduras, and fleeing from gangs, why didn’t you ask for help in El Salvador while you were there? Or Guatemala as you passed through? Or Mexico? If you traveled through those places and didn’t ask for asylum then I am rather suspicious of your request for asylum being real; and that it is just your attempt to “game the system” of US immigration policy and get yourself into the US. We should process and examine the request like all the others, and absolutely treat you like humans rather than vermin, but if you passed through other places that are just as capable of granting you asylum as we are, and you didn’t ask for it there, then I’m inclined to deny your request here and turn you around.

  7. Kristine says:

    ^Even if the absolute worst assumptions of your scenario are true, jaxjensen, tearing children away from their parents as a deterrent is state terrorism, and we should want no part of it. Period. For any reason.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Pure evil.

  9. Loursat says:

    Thanks, Michael. Your essay here is true.

    I want to comment on the responsibility that we Mormons have for contributing to this mess. The political ideology that’s driving the current government has roots that go way beyond Mormonism, of course. On the whole, though, we’ve done more than our share to build it up. There is no group in which religiously tinged, hyper-patriotic American exceptionalism is more deeply embedded than in Mormons. The BYUs, at least in Provo and Rexburg, have long been incubators for this ideology. It has been a dominant political view among general authorities for several generations. For a long time it was easy to ignore the connections between that ideology and darker cultural threads like nativism, racism, and populist resentment. Now it’s coming back to bite us very hard.

    The savagery and incompetence of the Trump administration have shocked a lot of the thoughtful people who plowed the ground for it. But now those people need to take responsibility for what they’ve done. We Mormons need to change.

    America right now is running on fear. Mormons need to lead on the path away from fear and cruelty. I’m grateful that BCC persists in being a voice for this possibility.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    jaxjensen: do you realize that people from El Salvador and Guatemala are fleeing from the same problems and parts of Mexico are not safe from gangs either? And are you sure they didn’t ask for asylum only to be turned down?

  11. jaxjensen: “So, if you are from Honduras, and fleeing from gangs, why didn’t you ask for help in El Salvador while you were there? Or Guatemala as you passed through? Or Mexico?” I’m pretty sure you’re trolling, but just in case, the answer is really easy: the same conditions driving people to leave Honduras are also driving people to leave El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. Kinda like when our own people were driven from Kirtland, then Independence, then Nauvoo, we didn’t try again in Des Moines or Omaha.

  12. jaxjensen says:

    “Even if the absolute worst assumptions of your scenario are true, jaxjensen, tearing children away from their parents as a deterrent is state terrorism, and we should want no part of it. Period. For any reason.” I don’t disagree.

    “And are you sure they didn’t ask for asylum only to be turned down?” I think I covered this with the “if you didn’t ask for it there” part of my comment. If you asked, and were turned down; OR, have a legitimate reason why those places aren’t safe either (re: Elizabeth’s comment) then that is fine. I think everyone should have their request inspected anyway. It’s tangential to the post, but as a matter of policy I’d favor turning down people who didn’t ask elsewhere (that they’ve passed through) unless they have an extenuating circumstance. (FYI: I gave until it hurt to support some refugees from Argentina; trying to support 3 missionaries out serving right now. I’m not against refugees, I just think it needs to be a legitimate asylum need, not just a way to get through our system.)

    Didn’t we stop in Omaha (AKA Winter Quarter’s)? But lacking anything there, we kept moving???

  13. jaxjensen: okay, so we add the requirement that people have to ask for asylum in the places they traveled through. Now our already tortuous refugee application process has one more hurdle, the outcome of which is that either (a) we sent people back to somewhere that they’re just going to flee again because of the same conditions that made them want to leave their original home, and they’ll end up back in the US — or dead if they don’t — where they re-apply for asylum and the whole thing starts over again, or (b) the refugee applicants catch on that when we ask “did you request asylum in the other places you traveled through?” they should answer “Of course I did!” in which case we (b1) either expend enormous resources verifying their assertion or (b2) take it at face value, in which case the requirement is now meaningless. Congratulations, you’ve now added another ultimately meaningless and potentially [fatally] hazardous hurdle to the refugee application process. This exactly the logic on which ICE operates. The rest of us think it’s idiotic and/or inhumane.

  14. jaxjensen says:

    “(b1) either expend enormous resources verifying their assertion or (b2) take it at face value, in which case the requirement is now meaningless.” Isn’t this the way every application works? It describes our tax system, employment applications, presidential claims, impressing a date… etc. etc. etc. So… thanks for the useless description of how life works I guess.

  15. The one and only says:

    Volatile tension in streets kept police busy to deter violent confrontations at Sunday’s Muslim march in Europe’s largest city, where angry Muslims called for the ouster of Zionist supporters throughout England.

    What kind of country, indeed!

  16. Asylum laws were never meant for gang violence and domestic abuse issues. Just based on numbers, the reality is that the majority of the men who are being accused of domestic abuse in those countries are immigrating to America as well. The number of people who qualify for this protection under these looser interpretations would be a number so significant that it would probably make up 50% of the world. For example in Russia you can’t open up a business without being threatened and blackmailed by the mafia. Even people in the United States like those in bad areas of Chicago and Baltimore would qualify for asylum.

    I’m concerned with nativism as well but there is also a viewpoint south of the border that they now have a right to live in the US.

  17. It’s also my understanding that parents are being separated from kids when they are illegally entering the country and not turning themselves in at a port of entry. You know illegally crossing the border with the help of a coyote in a smuggling ring that finances the drug cartels which everyone is stating is making Mexico too violent for these people to claim asylum…. but preventing illegal entry and financing the drug cartels is for some reason seen as a negative here…. my mind hurts….. also White flight is considered a negative thing in US cities because it leaves the area worse off with a higher concentration of gangs and criminals in the area…. but a whole country being left to ms-13 will be a positive

  18. Michael, I think you are spot on in identifying immigration as the next defining question that we as a country must answer. And it boggles my mind that so many inside the church have taken such a hard line when we of all people know that it was immigration was the main catalyst for the early growth of the church, well into the late 19th Century. And we were not exactly a welcomed people as you rightly point out.

    “huge tracks of land” – ftw

  19. While these are important questions to discuss, I think the main question that should be the number one question for everyone in the US down through Central America is how to fix the issue of gang violence. Without fixing this issue, we are putting paper towels over wet leaks with this mass migration that might be doing more harm to more people than good from those getting amnesty. If a country is solely left of gang members who will be able to repair and rebuild that nation? Former gang members or the next generation of the kids of ms-13 or Barrio 18? Or will millions more kids be born into an abject life of poverty and violence ?

  20. I meant asylum and not amnesty in my last post*

  21. During the peak years of violence in Centeal america, there was a 0.00065% chance of getting murdered. (Just in general even though the high majority would be gang related)

    Your odds of getting murdered if you were a resident of Baltimore in the US in the year 2017… 0.00056%

  22. Not a Cougar says:

    I’m not supportive of the current policy of breaking up families for detention (and it’s a fixable problem), but the tarring and feathering of Latin American countries in these replies is irresponsible hyperbole. Yes, there is violence to be found in Mexico and Central America, but there are many, many cities that are perfectly safe. Please stop painting Mexico and Central America as if they were Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

  23. Mark B. says:

    Not a Cougar says that the breaking up of families is a “fixable problem.” There are two sides to that: one is a political problem, and the other a practical, law enforcement one–“law enforcement” in the sense that the executive is sworn to execute–to enforce–the laws that Congress has enacted. So, what is the solution? Or are we left simply to decry a system–poorly understood by nearly everyone, including nearly every politician who ever talks about immigration law or reform–as “pure evil”?

  24. Kristine says:

    I don’t think anyone’s decrying the entire system here, Mark B. We are talking about a particular practice, newly instigated, that is cruel and vicious and has absolutely nothing to do with solving the complicated problems of immigration about which people can disagree in good faith.

  25. Not a Cougar says:

    Mark B., I’m no expert, but if it’s necessary to detain people (and I’m ambivalent as to whether it is), why can’t we detain families in the manner that they come over? If parent and child come together, put them in the same facility. I don’t see how that is too hard to accomplish.

  26. jaxjensen says:

    ?If parent and child come together, put them in the same facility. I don’t see how that is too hard to accomplish.”

    I think it is all a matter of optics. There is a sizable portion of the population who will cry bloody-murder no matter what this admin does, because their goal isn’t to make things better, but just to see this admin fail (see Bill Maher hoping for a recession even though he admits it will hurt people). And so now the cry is that they are breaking up families. You say they should keep them together in detention, but the screams of inhumanity won’t go away, they’ll change to screams about the photos of kids behind bars. So which is worse for PR, putting kids behind bars or breaking the family up? If both are bad options, then I think the admin has rightly decided its best to NOT lock up the kids.

  27. Wanted to add sourcing and detail to the question of seeking asylum first in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, and briefly address the assertion that gang members are crossing the border in numbers on the order of magnitude of asylum seekers –

    El Salvador:
    “…The rate of violent death for women is the third-highest in the world. In 2016, 524 women in El Salvador—one in every 5,000—were killed, with most of them under the age of 30. From the beginning of 2017 through October, there were nearly 2,000 sexual assaults, with about 80 percent of victims 17 or younger, according to the Salvadoran Women’s Organization for Peace. Through November, there were were 429 femicides, according to the Institute of Legal Medicine. In the first two months of 2018, 72 women were murdered, a more than 50 percent increase from the same period last year, Salvadoran police reported on March 2.” (“El Salvador’s Gangs Are Targeting Young Girls,” The Atlantic, 4 March 2018)

    “More recent and specialised studies assert there are 70,000 [gang] members in El Salvador alone, while the UN Office on Drugs and Crime provides more modest estimates of 20,000 in El Salvador, 22,000 in Guatemala, and 12,000 in Honduras…Drug trafficking in Guatemala has been a marginal business for the gangs, due to the control over trade of existing local criminal organisations with strong links to the state and security forces.” Guatemala experiences a massive amount of extortion from within its prisons, and the gangs there are connected within the state bureaucracy. (“Mafia of the Poor: Gang Violence and Extortion in Central America,” International Crisis Group, 6 April 2017)
    [And all of that is before we get to the recent volcanic eruption in Guatemala]

    “Mexico…plays an indispensable role in managing the northbound migration flows by apprehending thousands at the Mexico-Guatemala border and sending home those who don’t need humanitarian protection. If we build a wall that the Mexican people view as insulting, Mexican politicians gearing up for their 2018 presidential elections may cease cooperation with the U.S., resulting in the freeing those thousands of Central Americans whom the Mexicans currently intercept at their border to come to our border. Ironically, the misguided effort to keep Mexicans out by building a wall would result in only Mexico allowing more Central Americans to come to our border.” (“Trump’s border wall attacks the wrong immigration crisis,” Politico, 25 January 2017)

    “As the Trump administration pushes forward with its plans to harden the southwest border, Mexico has found itself under pressure to take in an increasing number of asylum seekers making their way north from Central America, many of them fleeing gang violence. But immigrants’ advocates say Mexico’s asylum system and its ability to protect migrants have not kept pace with these demands, impeding access for many migrants to the safety they deserve and the refugee status they may be entitled to.” (“A Flawed Asylum System in Mexico, Strained Further by U.S. Changes,” New York Times, 5 August 2017)

    On the subject of whether those committing domestic violence and/or gang members are also fleeing these countries: “the federal government’s current estimate of around 10,000 MS-13 members across 40 U.S. states hasn’t changed in more than a decade, and only a fraction of unaccompanied minors apprehended since 2011 have confirmed gang ties.” (“El Salvador’s Gangs Are Targeting Young Girls,” The Atlantic, March 4, 2018)

    On the comparison between Baltimore and El Salvador which focuses on homicides only:
    The source above estimates around 2,000 sexual assault cases in just ten months of 2017. Baltimore had less than 200 rapes in its worst neighborhoods over a two-year period ( You may have an equal likelihood of homicide in Baltimore and El Salvador, but risk of sexual violence in El Salvador is close to an order of magnitude higher.

  28. Kristine says:

    Nope, jaxjensen. I am disgusted by much that this administration does, but terrorizing children (which is what taking them from their parents does) is on a different level of inhumanity than most of the Trump administration’s policies which are merely wrongheaded, corrupt, and anti-American. Masha Gessen is eloquent on the ways in which this particular policy is different from all the rest:

  29. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine… so your saying there wouldn’t be a massive PR campaign against him if they locked the kids up too? because that already happened, but then it was revealed that the pics being used were from the Obama admin, and suddenly the entire thing stopped. So, given that it has already happened, I’m fairly confident in saying that there WOULD be a massive amount of screaming/crying/tantrums if the admin was locking up kids with their parents.

  30. Jax, one may just as easily say there is a large portion of this population that will support this president no matter what he does, even if it means he is driving it off a cliff, and that these supporters’ goal aren’t to make things better, but support the president if he is a Republican. Can we please move past such partisan posturing? It doesn’t help your argument at all.

  31. Kristine says:

    jaxjensen, honestly, I don’t particularly know or care what would happen in your hypothetical situation. This *particular*, *specific* policy of deliberately separating small children from their parents is unworthy of civilized human beings. It is not in the realm of normal policy disputes or discussions of partisan political reactions, and we should not talk about it in those terms.

  32. jaxjensen says:

    Brian, there is that portion, that ignore his disgusting immoral behavior, that forgive his every fault, will cheer his destructive decisions, etc, just because of the R next to his name. I’m not that guy though. I didn’t vote for the dirtbag, and won’t, ever.

    Someone suggested keeping families together in detention as a solution. I’m saying (and agree)that it would fix the problem of family separation, but that the moral outrage leveled against the admin won’t stop, but will only transition into outrage that kids are locked up. And given that such an shift was attempted already, I’m pretty sure I’m right.

  33. jaxjensen, this is a conversation about the morality and practicality of separating children from their parents, not about the resulting optics for the administration. On what basis do you think “everyone will still be mad at Trump” is a meaningful contribution to the discussion on whether removing children from their parents is kind/decent? Barring even the question of ethical treatment of asylum seekers, “everyone will still whine about Trump” doesn’t even attempt to analyze the policy (for or against) from a pragmatic point of view.

  34. The argument that we need to separate the children from the parents because it would be bad to lock children up in cages doesn’t really work for me. It assumes that we have to solve the problem by treating the children and their parents equally poorly. We could also solve it the other way by treating children and their parents equally well. The separation policy has been instituted precisely because our administration feels that it will deter people from coming if they know that they will have their children taken from them. That’s terrorism. We are doing something that we know to be cruel and inhumane as an intentional deterrent to others. And that is a line that civilized nations. or moral human beings, don’t cross.

  35. jaxjensen says:

    Kristine, is it better to have kids behind bars or to separate them from their parents? It’s a subjective moral question. You’ve made clear you are in the “separating families is pure evil” camp. Others think having kids locked up would be evil and unconscionable. On the scale of which is worse, I’m undecided. They are both bad scenarios, no? I can’t say I’m firmly in the “lock the kids up too” camp.

  36. Locking up kids isn’t great but between that and locking up their parents and sending them away, that’s not a hard moral question. They’re not even close to morally equivalent.

  37. Jax, you may be right that there would be backlash, but optics game is not more important than keeping families together. Some can chose to have that opinion, of course, but (and I’m pretty I’m right), that the church and Christ would be against putting optics over families. So, point taken, but why make the point?

  38. Kristine says:

    KLN, exactly. The politics are uninteresting once we have progressed to the point of moral crisis. (We’re arguably long past that, but we haven’t actually applied Stalinist and Nazi tactics until this moment.)

  39. Not a Cougar says:

    Kristine, unless unknown to us the administration is actually performing mass executions, I think it’s inappropriate to equate this situation with the Holocaust and the Great Purge.

  40. Mark B. says:

    There are strict limitations on detention of children–some of which are routinely violated by ICE–but one bright line that is not crossed is that children may not be held in jails. (You may not be able to tell the difference between a jail and a federal immigration detention facility, but they are called by different names and the courts recognize the difference.)

    Illegal border crossers are now being charged with a crime–the statute has been on the books for years, but has been routinely ignored by federal law enforcement authorities–and are held in jail pending disposition of their criminal cases. I suppose that they are eligible for release on bail, but they probably lack the funds. And the overworked federal public defenders probably don’t have time to help with bond hearings for all the defendants.

    An article in the Wall Street Journal suggested that the criminal cases are being resolved quickly–on guilty pleas with defendants sentenced to “time served,” with the defendants then released into custody of ICE. In theory, families should be reunited at that point–so the whole separation should have lasted just a few weeks. Given bureaucratic speed, that probably doesn’t happen as fast as one would hope. And any separation would be traumatic for both parents and children.

    The quickest solution: advise asylum seekers not to cross the border illegally. Just don’t do it. If you want to seek asylum, get in the line at the port of entry and when you get to the border guard, tell the guard you’re seeking asylum. Under CBP rules, they are required to give you a “hearing”–an interview with a CBP officer–to determine whether you in fact have a “credible fear” of returning to your home country. If you establish that you have such a credible fear, you and your accompanying dependents will be paroled into the United States and your case referred to Immigration Court. You might be detained, but it will be in an immigration detention facility, where families are held together.

    A medium term solution: elect a president who won’t enforce Section 275(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act against first-time border crossers. Call it prosecutorial discretion.

    The longer-term solution: get Congress to repeal Section 275(a). Good luck with that.

  41. Kristine says:

    Not a Cougar–I didn’t say the administration was committing genocide. I said it was using tactics that the Stalinists and Nazis used. Separating children from their parents is a device of totalitarians. I make the comparison advisedly.

  42. Kristine says:

    Mark B.–I really don’t care. Separating an infant for a toddler from her caregiver for “only” a few weeks has lifelong psychological consequences. We mustn’t do it, and I’m willing to bet it could end today with a single call from Jeff Sessions. This isn’t an administration that has been careful about the niceties of the law in other situations.

  43. Not a Cougar says:

    Kristine, I’m sorry, but your previous post appeared to be an attempt to make a moral equivalence between locking up people for illegally entering a country and wholesale genocide. My mistake for immediately thinking of the things for which those regimes were most famous.

    However, more to the point, democratically elected governments lock up people all the time for violating laws, which results in those people being separated from their families. Do I agree with the administration’s decision to split up families here? No, but my mere disagreement with the Government’s action doesn’t magically turn the Government into a totalitarian regime.

  44. Kristine says:

    We’re not talking about criminals. Nor are we talking about a policy that at least arguably has the best interests of children in mind–not sending kids to jail with criminal parents has some good consequences for those kids. What Sessions has ordered is nothing like that.

  45. Kristine says:

    I mean, for heaven’s sake, Mormons OFTEN make arguments about how awful it is for a mother to leave her children in someone else’s care for a few hours a day so she can go to work. How is it possible for us to immediately forget all of that when the mothers and children in question are brown or poor?

  46. Rexicorn says:

    Mark B, the government is separating families who legally request asylum.

    Jaxjensen, children separated from their parents are being held in detention facilities now — they’re not separated from parents and then set free. The photos from the Obama administration were of unaccompanied minors, who were *already* overwhelming the system and exceeding CBP’s ability to place them in safe homes. Declaring more children unaccompanied minors, unnecessarily, doesn’t solve that problem.

    Also, where is this idea that family separation is a law passed by congress coming from? Automatically separating families is a new policy enacted by DOJ under Sessions, intended as a deterrent. That’s easily verifiable.

  47. Rexicorn says:

    It should also be noted that, at least to my knowledge, illegal immigration isn’t considered a criminal offense. It’s a civil violation. That’s why immigration courts are such a disaster right now, because they don’t have to follow the same processes as criminal courts (such as the right to legal representation).

  48. Mark B. says:

    Kristine–I said that “any separation” would be traumatic. Which I think is the same thing that you are saying. And, yes, Jeff Sessions could change things in a heartbeat. But he’s not going to. So, what’s the best thing to do today? My first suggestion–advise migrants on the southern border not to attempt to sneak across the border

  49. I think that Mike said what needs to be said very well in the post itself and in his latest comment. We are deliberately using the trauma that attends separating children from their parents as a deterrent to discourage people from entering this country. I’d like to think that the ability to see the horror in this would transcend political allegiance and be well beyond the pale of policy debate, but I find that I’m wrong about that with depressing relentlessness.

  50. The Family: A Proclamation to the World says that “the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, nations, and communities the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” Some say that this applies only to gay marriage, but I can think of no more obvious or violent disintegration happening today of the institution of the family than a government practice to literally, physically tear children from their parents unnecessarily.

    I won’t hide my pro-immigration views, but I recognize that there’s room to disagree in good faith about how to strike the proper balance between the important competing interests that inform immigration policy. But there’s no good faith policy argument for unnecessarily separating parents from children.

    Separating children and parents is in our own history and scripture so obviously evil that that’s the example that section 122 draws upon to show how awful the persecution was that the saints endured: “if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you?”

    There’s almost nothing more sacred than the Child-Parent bond. Even the gospel of Christ itself speaks of our conversion in terms of becoming a son or daughter of God in order to express the unbreakable nature of the gospel covenant, to show that “nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.” This is no time to stand on byzantine legal technicalities (I saw that as a lawyer that loves legal technicalities). We’re in the realm of fundamental wrong and right that precedes legal obligations.

    Let’s disagree about policy, but the unnecessary separation of children from parents is something that should outrage any conservative and any liberal who claims to believe in protecting the family. It is my belief that if we allow it to continue, God will not excuse us, and will not forgive us unless we repent in sackcloth and ashes.

  51. Mark B.,

    Most of us have far fewer connections with people coming across the border than we do with the political system that is making this horrible thing happen. I would love to be able to advise people who are fleeing their country about the best way to appeal for asylum, but I don’t have any mechanism for doing that. So, like most of us in this discussion, advising migrants on asylum policy is not a realistic suggestion.

    But like Kristine, I don’t want to make this a sterile discussion about the ins and outs of immigration law. Families are being split apart at the border, and I want it to stop now. We all agree that Jeff Sessions could stop this with a phone call, and the President could stop it with a Tweet. But I think you are right that they are not going to do that, because the political base that they are courting wants to see immigrants hurting. On the various right wing blogs and web site, nobody is saying, “gee its too bad that our immigration law is structured in such a way that the legitimate concerns of border protection require the separation of children from their families.” They are cheering and saying, “it’s about time we stopped coddling these animals and put them in cages.”

    So, for both reasons of domestic politics and for a supposed deterrent–and because our president is trying to force Congress to pay for a wall by creating a hostage situation–we are doing something awful to children and their families. And we don’t have to do it. There is no reason that we can’t hold both parents AND children in federal immigration detention centers. We policed our border for years without splitting up families. It is not necessary or even particularly helpful.

    The other institution that could stop this fairly quickly is Congress, but they won’t unless they become more afraid that doing nothing will cost them their seats. That’s the line that most of us have available–letters, and phone calls, and rallies, and protests, and even blog posts and op-eds designed to put political pressure on Congress to pass laws that replace the phone call that Jeff Sessions is not about to make.

  52. I live in Orem, Utah. All up and down State Street are “Help Wanted” signs.

  53. Not a Cougar says:

    Roger, there’s an easy fix. It’s called, “offering more per hour than the next guy.”

  54. There’s one more thing that members of Congress can do: criticize the administration’s new policy. Today’s Salt Lake Tribune has a story quoting four of Utah’s five senators and representatives as regretting the separation of families. They are all Republicans and Mormons. Each pretends that it’s entirely a problem with the system, or with the laws, or even with the failures of Congress. All of them still think they can play both sides. Not one is willing to say that the administration should change the policy.

  55. Rexicorn says:

    Mark B, again, they are separating families who legally request asylum as well. Advising them “not to sneak across the border” won’t prevent the government from separating parents and children.

  56. Elizabeth says:

    I just wrote my congresswoman. She is pretty deaf to anything but the Republican party, but maybe it will help. And no, Michael that is not the kind of country I want. For the first time in my 70 years I am ashamed of my country.

  57. Michael: I’m against sterility as much as anybody, but knowing the details of the issue can help one know what direction to take in trying to change a bad policy.

    As you said, the Trump administration isn’t going to change this. There is, unfortunately, too large a constituency that agrees with the administration’s policies, and the outrage of the administration’s opponents serves only to harden Trump and Sessions in their conviction that they must be doing something right.

    It would be wonderful if Congress acted. But I’ve watched congressional inaction on immigration matters for the past 20 years, and I haven’t any reason to hope for positive action by the Congress. (The only good thing that’s happened in Congress during that period was the approval of an amendment that Sen Bennett added to an agriculture bill–the one that allows churches to support missionaries who are undocumented–and that passed only because the restrictionists in the House didn’t pay attention until after the bill was signed.)

    So we can write and we can call and we can hold protest marches and hunger strikes and be outraged, but in the meantime children will continue to be separated from their parents–mothers, mostly–and neither the executive nor the legislative branches of the government are likely to change.

    Which is why educating migrants is the fastest way to make a difference. Here’s a example of one form this education can take: Link. Unfortunately that article doesn’t say whether those attorneys were members of a larger organization. But I’d suggest that AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers Association) or UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza) or the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Projects might be places to contact.

  58. Rexicorn: saying someone has “legally” requested asylum doesn’t tell us anything. A person may request asylum at a port of entry, or when apprehended by an immigration officer within the United States. If the person is already inside the United States, and has no evidence of a legal entry (usually a stamp in his passport), he may legally seek asylum, but that doesn’t change the fact that he violated Sec. 275 of the INA–in which Congress stated that crossing the border without inspection is a crime. It’s that latter class of persons who are being detained and separated from their children while in detention. If you can cite examples of persons who have sought asylum at a port of entry and were still separated from their children and detained while awaiting resolution of their asylum claims, please do.

  59. Rexicorn says:

    From the HRC: “Mothers and fathers who arrive with their children at an official port of entry to lawfully seek asylum are being forcibly separated from their children.” Specific stories follow.

    There are several news outlets reporting the same.

  60. Thanks, Michael. What the majority of Mormons need to understand is that the Republican Party today is not the party they belonged to five or ten years ago. It is the Party of Trump, and it has embraced his cruelty, his nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism), his irrational thought processes, his indifference to suffering and poverty, his vindictiveness, and his abominable and willful ignorance about almost everything. Is this the party you really want to belong to? Because it is creating just the sort of country you will not want to live in. Tax cuts for the wealthy while millions go without health insurance, a decent retirement, or a living wage.

  61. Rexicorn: Damn! (Thanks for the link–I obviously had missed that whole side of the story.)

  62. Rexicorn says:

    Mark B: No worries — immigration is a twisted behemoth of laws and policies as it is, so it’s easy to miss this kind of stuff.

  63. Mark B.

    I agree that it is good to know the specifics of the laws we want to change, and I appreciate the expertise that you lend the discussion. Thank you.

    I also agree that political action is unlikely to change very much–if it comes from the usual suspects. But I believe that a coordinated pressure campaign would be very effective if it involved traditional Republican constituencies: Mormons in the West, White Catholics in the Midwest, Evangelicals in the South. These groups hold the keys, because Republican legislators know that they can’t alienate these blocs and stay in power.

    So the task becomes, in my opinion, persuading seriously religious people to take their beliefs seriously–and convincing people who love to folliw leaders to follow the very clear statements from the LDS First Presidency, the US Council of Catholic Bishops, along with some (but by no means all) Evangelical leaders.

    We need to convince our coreligionists to step forward with their better angels. There is no Christian denomination that should not have huge problems with what is happening, but it is the conservative religions, who make up a large part of the Republican coalition, who need to speak up and even threaten to pull out of the coalition if this does not stop. We Mormons are part of that coalition. We have influence. We need to use it to protect children.

  64. “his cruelty, his nationalism (not to be confused with patriotism), his irrational thought processes, his indifference to suffering and poverty, his vindictiveness, and his abominable and willful ignorance about almost everything.”


    I agree with all of your descriptors except “irrational thought process.” I don’t think that Trump is being irrational here at all. Quite the reverse, I think he is being very calculating and creating what he knows will be a crisis in order to use that crisis for leverage as he tries to get Congress to fund his border wall.

    Manipulating refugees for political leverage is new to Americans, but it is pretty standard practice for dictators. Putin has been manipulating the Syrian crisis for years in order to flood Europe with refugees. And the North Korean government has, for decades, extracted concessions from China and the South by subtly threatening to flood their borders with North Korean refugees. So Trump is in, if not good company, at least the company he has chosen.

  65. MDearest says:

    This is an excellent post, thanks Michael.

    I live in Phoenix. As clearly stated in the OP, these are not people who are sneaking across the border, they are seeking asylum by coming to the border and presenting themselves to border authorities to have their stories vetted. Some are minors and often there are moms or families with small children. These are the people who are being separated from their children, both going to an automatic 72 hour detention, separately, which sometimes goes longer, and after which, reuniting children with parents or other family members is a messy, hit or miss business.

    It’s very difficult to get good information about how the system is being run; a sitting US senator was unable to gain access to assess conditions, news stories are unreliable, and may or may not be sensationalized. (For instance, the “1500 Lost Children” is a figure gleaned from ICE statistics, and represents children who have been released from detention to family members or other parties, who received the routine follow-up ‘care’— a single phone call to the number taken for the file at the time of release, and if there is no answer, or no other success in contacting the responsible party, the ‘lost’ checkbox is marked. No one who’s rescued their child from ICE is going to take that phone call, and the immigrant community prefers not to have this sensationalized scrutiny.)
    The federal immigration court in Tucson has such a backlog that they have a daily mass hearing, bringing asylum-seekers in shackles, each having spent no more than 10 minutes with their assigned defender, often with a language barrier, and nearly all of whom are deported. There is poor due process and many errors, and little justice from the US Department of Justice. Sometimes legitimate US citizens are deported because they are unable to prove their citizenship under such conditions.

    We know that current practice is that all children, including toddlers and babies, are removed from their parents‘ custody and put into some kind of separate detention facility which isn’t designed for their welfare, and isn’t open to outside inspectors. There are reports of food-handlers instructed to make the already sub-standard food unpalatable, and detainees becoming sick. When there are reports of minor children being released, they are severely traumatized.

    This is our government at work, spending our taxes to make our borders secure, but the opposite of that is the result. I haven’t seen local border issues so aflame since the 1980s during the Reagan years when brutal instability in Central America brought dramatically increased numbers of asylum seekers to the border.

    Immigration issues have been simmering for my entire lifetime, with ever-increasing human numbers, ever-increasing tragedy, and ever-increasing creativity of officials kicking the can down the road. I would say we’re reaching a breaking point, but after witnessing the craven nature of the current elected/appointed bunch, I can see that we could be even worse. Human beings will do unimaginably evil things to their fellows if the power to do so is unchecked. The question is, are we going to excuse the US government when they escalate this to something worse?

    It really does fall to us to rein in our government. There are things ordinary people can do. Pay attention. Seek good news sources and inform yourself. Care more about people and less about politics. This isn’t a partisan problem and won’t ever be properly addressed except through partisan cooperation, so foster that. There are solutions that are sensible and workable, but they are career-killers in this political climate, so ratchet that down. These people are not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such, and don’t believe anyone who tries to paint them as nefarious operators. They just aren’t. After you’ve informed yourself, contact your congresspeople with your concerns.

    I fear for the potential future fallout from this, we could be blundering into some real border insecurity, too close for comfort. It’s starting to affect the safety of travel in Mexico and Central America which is startling and a terrible shame. So I’m joining hundreds and perhaps thousands of people to help the traumatized people, and to pressure the government to act humanely according to our principles, and to do the real work of immigration reform in Congress with all parties represented. There’s much in our government to be alarmed about, but this situation just isn’t that difficult to assess as intolerable.

    P.S. Forget the border wall. We already have a border wall. It causes as much problem as it solves, and more-border-wall is smoke and mirrors to fool voters. Immigration reform done right is much cheaper and will be way more effective. Keep up the pressure for that.

  66. Emily U says:

    “Immigration is shaping up to be our generation’s ‘What kind of country do we want to be?’ question.” That sentence settled something in my mind. You are absolutely right.

    Also, I realize the importance of using language that doesn’t immediately alienate opposing views, and I think you do a masterful job of that, Michael. Perhaps that’s why the word “racism” doesn’t appear in your essay. But since you didn’t say it, I want to: “immigration policy so driven by ideology” is really immigration policy so driven by racism. It’s so evil it makes me shake.

  67. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Emily U, that roughly half the country refuses to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and requires commentators for the other half to circumlocute to avoid saying the word “elephant,” is a rather huge problem.

    One is reminded of the gag policy on slavery in Congressional debate in the 19th Century, which led to the phrase “the peculiar institution.”

  68. Not a Cougar says:

    Emily, perhaps, but look at the Western European angst over the free movement of newly-EU citizens from eastern Europe. Were Mexico full of Eastern Europeans, I’m not sure the reaction would be that different.

  69. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Not a Cougar: in advance of Romania coming into full Schengen status, immigration restrictionists in the UK and Western Europe conjured up images of hundreds of thousands of Gypsies/Roma coming to pick pockets and steal cars. (Because, as we know, White British and Dutch don’t commit any petty crimes.)

  70. Richard says:

    We’d need to change the laws and then we’d need to open our homes. Otherwise it’s all talk and emotions.

  71. Aussie Mormon says:

    A plan for actually looking after them is needed before laws are changed. Because as much as people want to help, not everyone willing to house refugees will be able to afford to do it without additional financial support of some kind.

  72. Geoff - Aus says:

    I know the church said something about immigration some time ago, but this is another level.
    Would it not be good to get them to come out against this, to ask Trump voting members to consider using their vote to change this, and to use their influence, with both politicians and fellow christians to get this changed.
    The church, being seen as republican supporters by Trump, and others, have vastly more influence than individuals.

  73. Were Mexico full of Eastern Europeans, I’m not sure the reaction would be that different.

    The natives rarely catch the vision of the civilizing mission of the colonizers, that much is true, but Western Europeans had their shake at it, why shouldn’t Eastern Europeans have a turn?

  74. Not a Cougar says:

    Hep, I’ve been reading and re-reading your comment for hours now and still am not sure of your position here. My point was that if Mexicans and other Central Americans were white non-English speakers rather than Latinos (and yes, I know there are “white” Mexicans), I don’t think Americans’ reactions to immigration would be all that different than what they are now ala Western Europe so I don’t think opposition to immigration is centered on race (I’m not saying it isn’t a factor, just not a primary factor). Were you trying to support or rebut me?

    peter, sorry, I don’t have a clue what you’re getting at.

  75. says:

    Not a Cougar…. I agree, but there is a nativist element…. but this would be there if it were Chinese in mass migrating to Mexico or Africans in mass migrating to India… etc… And some of it is understandable… compare the number of professional positions in Texas that require bilingual speakers compared to those that don’t…. native non-bilingual speakers are in less advantageous social position than many 1st or 2nd generation latino immigrants who grew up speaking Spanish at home and getting taught English by American taxpayers…

    All these things make legal immigration, amnesty, and asylum laws all emotional issues for all involved.

  76. “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

    Both the old and the new covenants strongly condemn these actions. The fact that these policies are being enacted and carried out by people calling themselves “Christians” shows how sick the Body of Christ has become. Where is our Isaiah? Where is our Ezekiel?

  77. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Not a Cougar: being married to an Eastern European, believe me when I tell you that Europeans don’t consider Gypsies/Roma to be “white.” Frankly, it’d be a stretch to say that they’re considered fully fledged human beings.

  78. Not a Cougar says:

    Hep, thanks for the clarification. That’s exactly what I believe would happen in my hypothetical.

  79. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Yeah, but I doubt that more than 2% of the Eastern Europeans who have come to the West under Schengen are Roma. They’re mostly Poles and Lithuanians (something like a quarter of Lithuanian adults work outside the country) of both nationality and ethnicity, with a healthy smattering of Slovaks, Hungarians, and a lot fewer Balkans than expected. Language is a barrier, but they’re still not seen as alien by the local incumbent populations the way that non-whites would be.

  80. Amen.

  81. I agree with all your points except one. Crossing the border any where except at a point of entry is a crime. Illegal crossing should be stopped.
    We do need workers for agrucultur. Ideally we would let enough people in legally with visas to work. Work permits is an option but that seems like apartheid to me. People crossing the border back and forth daily or for weeks at a time is not a solution. People who work here should be made citizens and live here with their families.
    If our citizens don’t want to work harvesting our crops maybe we should not be raising crops.

%d bloggers like this: