Pursuing ‘A Radical Faith’ in the Trump Era

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In its article on the new Trump initiative to arrest parents suspected of having arranged to bring their children to the United States with the help of smugglers, The New York Times reported on José, a man from El Salvador. More than 10 years ago, he and his wife migrated to the United States, leaving their young son Henry in the care of relatives. When Henry became a teenager, local gang members began threatening him for his refusal to join them. Fearing for his son’s life, José wired money to his homeland and arranged for Henry to be smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico divide.

 “It’s impossible to do without help,” José declared, referring to the arduous journey over land to the United States. “My son didn’t know the way, and it was dangerous. I was worried,” he admitted, “but my bigger worry was that my son would not be safe in El Salvador. To stay there would have been fatal.” And to let him stay there—for José not to provide the means to help Henry find his way to safety in the United States—would have constituted an abandonment of his responsibilities as a parent.

To deny José’s right to protect his son by helping him migrate to safety is simply cruel. As Michelle Brané, the director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commissionpoints out, the administration is “punishing parents for trying to save their children’s lives.”  It is a cruelty often masked by appeals to the supposed sanctity of the law—and to the need to uphold it.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) head and retired marine general John Kelly explains, for example, that his agency has “an obligation to ensure that those who conspire to violate our immigration laws do not do so with impunity.” As has often been the case with such repressive measures—take state efforts to stymie “human trafficking”—officials justify them by positioning themselves as tough, virtuous protectors of the innocent. Jennifer Elzea, deputy press secretary of DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for instance, declares that those “who have placed children directly into harm’s way by entrusting them to violent criminal organizations will be held accountable.”

U.S. officials sometimes acknowledge the difficult circumstances that compel people to leave Central America, particularly the countries of its so-called Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), and come to the United States. In his testimony last month to the House Appropriations Committee, for instance, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan spoke of the work of ICE agents: “[T]hey are law enforcement professionals, but they have hearts. Do they feel bad about what is going on in Central America? Yeah. I’ve been to Central America, those countries aren’t as nice as the United States, it’s much nicer, and I can’t blame anybody for wanting to come here.”

Homan does blame those, however, who have acted on their desires, and migrated to the United States outside of official channels: “You can’t want to be a part of this country and not respect these laws. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to be a part of this country, follow the law, respect the law, and we’ll accept that. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, I want to be part of the greatest country on earth, but I want to ignore their laws. You can’t have it both ways. That’s not the America I grew up in.”

The America Homan grew up in was and remains a country that provides little to no meaningful legal channels for those fleeing the insecurity and violence of everyday life in places such as Henry’s homeland to migrate to the United States.It is also, of course, a country whose government has violated all sorts of laws (including its own) in carrying out its policies abroad, not least in El Salvador, that have made life miserable for many.

In this regard, the ICE Directors’ invocation of the law is empty—at least in reference to the suggestion that there is a feasible legal path for people like Henry to migrate to the United States. At the same time, Homan’s words are of great significance: They expose how the law often serves as a tool of the oppressor, as a convenient instrument to brandish to justify the unjust—in this case, the denial of the right to mobility in the face of oppression and deprivation. After all, what is the U.S. apparatus of exclusion—what is called border security in official parlance—other than an instrument to keep the global poor in their place (and out of “ours”), part of a project of maintaining a world of gross socioeconomic inequities?

Read the entire article at http://nacla.org/blog/2017/07/13/pursuing-%E2%80%98-radical-faith%E2%80%99-trump-era