By Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
The Trump administration has separated some 2,000 children from their parents, most of whom have come to the United States seeking asylum.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible, Romans 13, as justification for this zero-tolerance immigration policy. The first verse reads: “Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God.”
The Apostle Paul wrote the Book of Romans. But Paul spent many days and nights in jail, so he did not always abide by the rule of unjust governors.
Romans 13 has been invoked by scoundrels throughout its history. British Royals cited it to chastise rebellious American revolutionaries. Slave owners in early America justified the institution of slavery by quoting it. American law authorized slave owners to separate black sons and daughters from mothers and fathers by selling them to another slave owner.
Jeff Sessions is an old school Alabamian raised in the ways of the segregated South, so maybe such thinking is not unfamiliar to him.
The Nazis in Germany and apartheid South Africa quoted Romans 13 to give religious authority to genocide and apartheid. Former first lady Laura Bush wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that warehousing children in a former Walmart and a Texas tent city is “eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to be the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”
“This zero-tolerance policy,” she concluded, “is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”
Even as President Trump was defending the policy, first lady Melania Trump called for immigration reform in a statement, saying she “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”
Sessions says he is merely enforcing the law, but there is no zero-tolerance immigration law. The law hasn’t changed; Sessions invented a new interpretation to justify an immoral policy change. He said the Justice Department would begin prosecuting everyone who crosses the southwest border and separating children from parents as a deterrent. Sessions said he wanted to send messages that if you don’t want to be separated from your children, don’t come.
This immoral theory hasn’t worked in practice. Desperation, not calculation, drives parents to leave their homes and seek asylum.
Asylum is enshrined in both the United States and international law. Seeking asylum because of government oppression, domestic or gang violence, sex trafficking or natural disasters is not a crime. Contrary to Trump, these parents are not illegally breaking the law. They are legally seeking asylum.
The current immigrants coming to the U.S. are mainly poor people from Central America escaping government or gang violence—boys recruited by gangs, girls recruited for sex traffickers. They may or may not be granted asylum. But there is no justification—moral, legal or simply human—for ripping their children from them as they wait for a hearing on their status.
No subject in the Bible is mentioned more than caring for the poor—the stranger on the Jericho Road—treating them with respect and allowing them to maintain their dignity, which is the opposite of Trump’s and Session’s harsh immigration policy.
In the New Testament, Matthew reports Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod’s order to kill every newborn. Jesus’ parents became immigrants in Egypt seeking asylum for their son Jesus from Roman violence.
All major religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—value keeping families together, rather than tearing them apart. Even conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians allied with Trump are taking issue with his immigration policy. One of his strongest advocates, evangelist Franklin Graham, called the separations “disgraceful; it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.” The Southern Baptist Convention passed a strong resolution calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity” and called for a legal path to citizenship.
Trump keeps railing against immigrants, warning Democrats that they should accept his policies before the election “because you are going to lose.” That reveals the foul motivation behind this human horror.
As former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has argued, if Democrats are arguing about immigration, Trump is winning. Sessions and Trump are traumatizing innocent children to serve their partisan political purposes—and trying to use the Bible as a cover story.
Congress will vote on two immigration bills this week. Both give the president much of what he has demanded, including billions for the inane border wall (that he pledged the Mexicans would pay for). The more moderate bipartisan bill also would allow families to be detained together. As of this writing, it does not have sufficient Republican support to pass.
The trauma these children are experiencing will scar them for a lifetime. Is there no shame? Are the hearts of partisan politicians so callous that they will turn their backs on innocent children?