Children’s Defense Fund
The past week saw a new level of evil and political degradation at the American border with the unbearable images of crying children being taken away from their desperate parents and locked up in “tender age shelters” and warehouses, with some even kept in cages. For many people of faith, the suggestion that the God of the Scriptures would somehow endorse the Trump administration’s callous cruelty toward children and immigrant families is literally beyond belief. The Hebrew Scriptures stress over and over the importance of welcoming the stranger since we were once strangers ourselves.
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry … (Exodus 22:21-25)
You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice … You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:2 and 23:9)
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33)
In the New Testament, when Jesus was asked about the law, he taught that the ultimate guiding principle and commandment is love.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
In the book of Romans, the passage that immediately precedes one quoted recently by Attorney General Jeff Sessions describes the marks of a true person of faith – including “extend[ing] hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:13). And the following chapter emphasizes that the commandment to love one another supersedes any other:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
Every person who knows right from wrong has a responsibility to speak out right now and teach President Trump a lesson about human decency. Never forget the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:
I remember he asked his father, “Can this be true? This is the 20th century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”
And now the boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. I have tried to keep memory alive that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.
And then I explain to him how naïve we were that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe ….
What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.
Every child’s life is sacred and valuable and as worthy of protection as President Trump’s children and grandchildren. His cold human indifference to the suffering of innocent children shames our nation. No political goal or “war” is worth the life of even one innocent child. Love and human decency trump hate. Love and family trump politics. Love and compassion trump unjust treatment of the smallest and most vulnerable among us. The president of the United States has brought shame on America with his reckless disregard of our most vulnerable young children entrusted to our care.
While the president’s June 20 Executive Order states it is the policy of this Administration “to maintain family unity,” he fails to clarify how they will keep parents and children together in the future and describe actions they will take to reunite the more than 2,500 children who have been cruelly separated from their parents and in many cases sent to distant states. It should cause us all great concern when we hear they will seek permission from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify the Flores settlement, which defines existing standards for appropriate treatment of unaccompanied minors, to allow them to hold these children without their parents’ longer term and in unlicensed facilities.
This immoral tragedy must end with children returned to their parents immediately. And all of us must do everything we can to let these children know that they are not alone, that we are not forgetting them, and we will speak up and take whatever action is required to reunite them with their families and reunite our political leaders and nation with their sense of moral decency and caring for these beleaguered children and parents. A nation that does not stand for children does not stand for anything and will not stand guiltless before the God of history and all great faiths.
Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to http://www.childrensdefense.org.