I recently read an article in the NYTimes about a little boy who was separated from his father at the border and placed with a foster family and I wondered about how he would process this experience in the future. His foster mom said he cried and wailed at night for the first week and slept with a drawing of his family. He is experiencing the punitive emotional violence of our current anti-immigrant climate. Further some estimate that up to 2000 of the children have been separated from their parents in effort to punish families who are seeking refuge through the asylum system. (Intercept)
How did we get here? How did we become a people who can view every immigrant at the border as a potential criminal or someone coming to take advantage of us? And where will this end?
There is a trajectory that leads to more and more violence.
First, I think this kind of behavior begins with fear. We fear something such as a loss of safety, or loss of identity or loss of stability. The current immigration and refugee fears are fueled by concerns that muslim refugees will take over our culture and our governments to implement Sharia Law. Or that there will be so many people of color that white people will become a minority. This fear is real fueled by pundits across the nation.
Second, We don’t know how to process our fear and often focus it outward in scapegoating others. “They are the reason, I am hurting, or afraid or the reason, I am not making it financially or the reasons I am not getting the job I deserve.” (incidentally immigrants and refugees are accused of both taking away American jobs and taking benefits without working) The focus becomes on a person or people group rather than an actual issue or problem. It is easier to make our problems about wrong or bad people than it is to come up with creative solutions to actual problems in our world. And then we seek to protect ourselves with military might or punitive measures to enforce our perogatives.
Third, Once we identify an enemy, we begin the process of dehumanizing them. Perhaps pundits and politicos call the new target criminals, or animals, or cockroaches, or rats, or those who would be social takers, like moochers. Once we reduce others as somehow subhuman, it is easier to incarcerate them or further persecute them. And just a note: we and our fears are also exploited by pundits and politicos bringing us into complicity with the exploitation of others.
Fourth: We begin to want to cleanse ourselves of their presence. This can be about deporting people or rounding them and sending them to other countries or sending them back to their nation of origin or imprisoning them. We feel the need to rid ourselves, remove them from our presence of this problem people or group.
Fifth: The last step is physical violence. We cannot resolve our conflicts or our problems so we resort to physical violence in hopes that we can solve the problem that is focused on the people we don’t want. Sometimes this is enacted in war or other forms of violence toward human beings.
And we have come full circle and have not only dehumanized others but ourselves. I don’t think we do this intentionally. I believe it is a tactic born of the enemy–the shooter of firey darts. He has no new narratives but recyles the same fears in each age. That’s why it all feels so familiar.
The anxious tension that arises from our fears is magnified by those who are seeking to gain or maintain their own power. Vulnerable people are then exploited to gain that power. I was once involved in politics and one of the political advisors said that I should target the anti-immigrant sentiment in the campaign message of my candidate. I shared that I couldn’t do that and he said this to me, “but Faith, we can win on this.” I woke up to the power dynamic used by politicos who would exploit other human beings so that a candidate could get elected to office. I think such exploitation is sin.
In the Bible, Jesus was actually a scapegoat for the people of his day. Those in power—religious power or political power saw Jesus as a threat. And instead of hearing his voice and responding, they allowed the tension within themselves to grow until they needed to get rid of Jesus. They began to call him names such as son of the devil, one who did miracles by the devil and labeling him as a problem. They finally framed him in a kangaroo court that led to his execution. Jesus fully experienced the same process of dehumanization that immigrants and refugees are experiencing now when he bore our sin on the cross. And human beings do this over and over and over and over again… we just switch our targeted group. In one era it’s Jews another era it’s the Tutsi’s, it’s one group against another every time. It switches perpetrators and victims with the same old narrative in every era. It’s the way of the world.
So where are we in the violence trajectory?
I think we are to one degree or another between the third and the fourth step. There are many in this nation who want immigrants gone and fewer to come here. They want to cleanse our nation of those deemed out-of-place. And instead of dealing with an outdated immigration system, our country is using the law to enact ways of removing even more undesirable people from our presence. (Current Immigration Policies)
Our nation is enacting immigration and refugee reforms that seek to eliminate as many immigrants as possible from our nation and to reduce the number of people who can come to our nation as refugees or asylum seekers. (Washington Post) Further this administration is hinting at removing any green card holder from this country who has accessed any sort of public benefits. Even if those benefits are accessed by a citizen child, the green card holder may have his or her legal status withdrawn. (green card holders and benefits)
I am concerned that as we continue on this pathway, we are losing ourselves and our humanity. As believers, the way of Jesus is clear, we love and pray for enemies and seek their good. We form welcoming communities inviting the despised and marginalized and vulnerable to join with us in living the Jesus way. We dwell within the kingdom reign of Christ doing the same kinds of ministry and miracles that Jesus did.
I wonder sometimes if God has brought people to our borders and and if he has brought refugees seeking safety to us, so that we might be the instruments of God to minister to and care for them. What if, instead of seeking to protect ourselves and our ways if we sought the well-being of others. What if we offered hospitality and dignity? I wonder how the gospel might flourish if we saw people as beloved of God, made in God’s image? How would such a way of seeing change how we react to others?
And finally I wonder, if instead of being afraid, what if we might put our trust in God to care for us, then we are free to love others instead of scapegoat them. I wonder what God could do through us, the church, if we chose love over fear? Perhaps we need more faith in God as our protector and provider?
We can stop the path of violence by turning around, and living toward immigrants and refugees in the way Jesus would live. That’s what it means to repent… stop, turn around, walk in a different way–the way of Jesus. For Jesus said, whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.