Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Suffer Little Children

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness. —That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government … The History of the present King of Great Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World. 
He has refused his Assent to Laws, most wholesome and necessary for the public Good. … He has endeavored to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither … He has obstructed the Administration of Justice …

—Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence of the United States
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The Trump administration is separating the children of illegal immigrants from their parents and keeping said children in detention centers. Some of these children are less than two years old.

This is a gross abuse of human and familial rightsI don't care what your general perspective on politics is. Two things, and two things only, justify ripping a child away from its parents: abuse or neglect that endanger the child's life or health, and incapacity (financial or otherwise) to care for the child. 'Being an immigrant,' documented or not, isn't either of those things.

Also, let's be a little more clear what we mean when we talk about 'detention centers.' They're fucking cages. Like animals. As President Trump said they were. This is no civilized enforcement of federal law, this is ethnic goddamned cleansing.

Oh, but it's not really an ethnic cleansing because it's only of people who came here illegally? Sure. And Hitler protected his old friend and chauffeur Emil Maurice from Himmler, even though Maurice was an eighth Jewish. Racists, it turns out, are not always very consistent. And sure, maybe, maybe, Trump isn't a racist, even though he referred to Latino nations as shitholes and Latino people as animals and neo-Nazis as having good people among them. In all seriousness, a person could do those things and not believe that other races are inferior to theirs—though they would still be doing and saying horrible things. Meanwhile, tearing families apart is still fucking monstrous.

Also, let's park for a moment on the whole concept of legality and illegality. The point of having laws is to enforce justice. Strictly speaking, and following St Augustine and many other doctors of the Church, an unjust law has no force. So it is quite pertinent to ask whether the immigration policies of the United States are in fact just.

They sure don't make sense in the context of the Founding Fathers' writings on the subject, as cited above. Inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e. well-being, both physical and otherwise) don't support the idea of a closed border on the face of it—I mean, insofar as a closed border is literally a bar to liberty and, for the overwhelming majority of the immigrants in question here, also a bar to the pursuit of happiness. The fact that immigrating legally can easily take a few years, several thousand dollars, and a flawless attention to Kafkaesque details is just icing; though this is one of those storebought cakes where the icing is about eight feet thick. And, much like those storebought cakes, a lot of the people who need and want to immigrate the most, due to violence and destitution and a lot of other things, can't afford to spend two years and five thousand dollars on doing so. Which, in practice, makes American immigration law not a ban on immigrants, but a ban on poor ones.

It might be argued that our health care system is overburdened and we can't afford these new people, and so on. I am not convinced of that. To begin with, as of 2017, the IMF rated the United States as one of the twenty wealthiest countries, per capita, in the world. We're ranked with places like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Hong Kong, and the UAE (home of the cartoonishly affluent Dubai). I can easily believe that we as a people aren't willing to allocate enough of our money to the public good to support an influx of new people; or, more briefly, I can believe that we'd refuse to afford these new people. But I do not believe we can't. And I don't see why our selfishness should be their problem.

Further, there's the fact that our birthrate in the US has declined. In the long run, fewer babies means an aging population; and an aging population does mean a serious strain in our health care system—one that only new workers, both as producers of goods and services, and as sources of tax revenue, could relieve. But neither the prudential nor the legal aspects of this ghastly situation are, to me, primary.

Pilgrim praying in front of icon of Saint Mary, photo by Petar Milosevic

Are you a family values conservative? Keeping kids with their parents is pretty central to family values, and the Trump administration has betrayed that ideal. They are trying to manipulate you. Don't fall for it.

Do you reverence Scripture? Leviticus 19 says, If a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the strangeth that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God; and in the same style, Deuteronomy 10 says, The LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward: he doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and the widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment. Love ye therefore the stranger. The apostles repeat the same principle in the New Testament: the author of Hebrews commands us, Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares; and our Lord himself relates the following, in a frightening parable:
When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you; for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, unto everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. —Matt. 25
Christ's teaching was directed to individuals, not to societies? The Torah wasn't. The Torah was delivered only to Israel? Christ's teaching wasn't. And Christ's teaching both presupposed and at times expressly stated the validity of the Torah; and the Torah was made more toweringly perfect and unfathomably pure, not less so, by Christ's own teaching.

Christian, you must oppose this barbaric treatment of immigrants. It's not optional. It's not the difference between being a Christian and not being one; that difference is defined by the creeds. But it is the difference between honoring the Lord whose name you bear by putting his word before everything, and taking that name in vain to protect a President who doesn't deserve even your respect, let alone your worship.

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  1. There is another instance in which children are separated from their parents: when the parents are jailed.

    Does this mean that illegal immigrants accompanied by dependent children must not be jailed; that the authorities must be scrupulous in keeping track of the children, so that it will be possible for their parents to stay in touch with them and for the families to reunite when the parents are released; something else?

    I don't think we, or any other country, are morally obliged to admit for permanent residency anybody and everybody who manages to cross our borders. But our immigration laws need to be thoroughly overhauled to provide shelter for refugees, a program for seasonal workers, citizenship for long-term undocumented residents, and an opportunity for many more of those who seek a better life.

  2. If the countries they’re coming from aren’t shitholes, then their claim to be “refugees” hardly makes sense. You’re a refugee FROM something; namely, your homeland is a shithole (at least for you personally). You can’t have it both ways. Either refugees are coming from shitholes, or these people really aren’t refugees. Which is it? But the Left is all about weird language games rather than upfront honesty. The answer to Trump’s rhetorical question is that Norwegians aren’t coming here in droves because their home country is not a shithole. Life here wouldn’t be a “better life” for them. It’s funny how that better life stuff works in one direction. Americans aren’t fleeing in droves to Honduras for a better life. But how can the solution to the problems of the world be just accepting people abandoning their mess of a country and coming to ours. Is the solution to world prosperity “just have everyone move to America and Europe”? Isn’t there a sort of implicit colonialism there in the sense that...if moving to America is what gives people a better life, then if we want to give the benefits of being American to everyone...why wouldn’t we just take that to its logical conclusion and make the whole world into America. Let’s just conquer Mexico, and then all the Mexico will be in America already! Seriously, that’s where all this leads. The thing never discussed in all this concern for (illegal) immigrants is the ones THEY leave behind. Like, why is there a preference for those “privileged” enough to actually make it to Europe or the US. I’m sure there are plenty of Syrians in Syria today who’d want to be anywhere but Syria (because it’s turned into a shithole with this civil war and all). But they for whatever reason don’t have the means to flee to France or what have you. How can any solution be found in “draining” countries of those with the means to flee? It’s arbitrary. It’s like trying to decide who gets on the spaceship to Mars when the earth starts exploding. If we want a solution we really have to think about how to help all those people STUCK back in the shitholes (many of whom WOULD also leave, if they could)...and I don’t think the solution for them involves a depletion of their country of its most motivated citizens. Everyone’s talking about the people fleeing the burning building, no one is talking about putting out the fire, nor about the fact that there are all sorts of people inside that burning building who can’t get out, for various reasons...

    1. Being a refugee, economic or otherwise, isn't the only motivation for people to emigrate. But it is worth saying that a lot of migrants from Central America are refugees, and a lot of the things they are refugees from are problems that were either started or abetted by American influences, like the covert support from the CIA and co. for right-wing and often fascist groups in Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, and other Latin countries.

      As for draining countries, well, I'm not certain I disagree with you and yet I have a hard time imagining on what grounds I could possibly ask anybody to stay. As for immigration to the US, a lot of it is of parents who leave children behind, and emigrate to the US in order to get jobs and send money back so that their children can have better lives (which has its own complex of problems revolving around family unity and abandonment issues). Turning to places like Syria, it might be much more possible for people to escape the monstrosities there -- and I don't know of any reasonable theory of patriotism that would include the thesis that it's always better for your whole family to die in torment in your native country than it is to move -- if the United States would open ourselves up to accepting some refugees. Cf. our status as one of the wealthiest nations on earth; I believe we can face that idea.

      None of this is to speak against putting out the fire. I am a great believer in putting out the fire. But I don't believe in pitting the rescue of people against the extinguishing of fires. Splitting the labor, possibly, but not soft-pedaling either obligation.

  3. But we’re not exactly actively rescuing anyone, are we? We’ve got a well-made boat, a bunch of people out there on the sea whose shittier boat has started to sink are floundering in the water...and we take on the *strongest swimmers* who actually manage to make it to our boat. Isn’t there a weird sort of Darwinism in that? “Well, you made it through this brutal obstacle course, so the fittest get to survive!” Wouldn’t the Christian response be to throw back the strongest swimmers (if we accept that the solution cannot just be the wholesale transference of the ENTIRE population of a country onto our territory, leaving the homeland an empty waste) because they have the best chance of making it on their own, and give preference in our triage to the weakest swimmers who are least likely to make it on their own (and who thus are usually the ones who haven’t even been able to get anywhere near the safety of our boat yet). Pope Francis talks a lot about the peripheries, but the real peripheries are those abandoned by their fleeing countrymen, not the ones with the privilege of fleeing.

    I’d be very careful of any agenda that “coincidentally” lines up with that of the economic globalists. “Refugee” status should always be temporary, no? And what is so wrong with the safe zones idea? Ah but the idea of the US stepping into Mexico, saying “You people can’t control your own cartel problem, so we’re going to take a big chunk and defend it as a safe zone your good people can come to without entering our territory”...would outrage a ton of people too, saying we’re meddling etc. Well when are we allowed to meddle and in what sense is all their people doing a silent invasion of us not meddling too? I don’t buy the nonsense that we had a lot of illegal voters, but they certainly still INfluenced the political dialogue (yet with this whole Russia thing I thought were to understand that foreigners are for some reason not allowed to influence our politics!)

    As for remittances...what if we just sent them the money rather than making them come here and work for it? It winds up in the same place either way, but could be distributed more equitably...

    Everyone wants us to put out the fires too, of course but how exactly? We tried that in Iraq and all sorts of places and as you point out we caused more problems than we solved. At what point does it become the responsibility of brown people to take up agency and solve their own problems for themselves? Because I feel like we’re in a double bind where they often expect us (domestically and foreignly) to save them from themselves, but then turn around and act ungrateful and contemptuous when try to do just that; “It’s your fault we can’t control our sons...but don’t you dare try to control our sons!”

    We may well have been the institutional cause of the original structural problem...but the only way to address it would be MORE “institutional” type solutions, and they don’t seem to like that either. So what...they sit there raging and shooting themselves in the foot. At what point do we get to say “look, if you Palestinians had behaved like adults fifty years ago, you’d ALREADY be much more prosperous and happy now. Instead, you keep yourselves in misery over ideology and resentment and passing the blame.” When do we finally get to shake the dust off our feet and say “You people are ungrateful whenever we try to help you, we’re done trying. Take responsibility for saving your own community from the inside.”

    1. There are several assumptions here that I don't grant. To begin with, I'm not at all convinced that it's the strongest swimmers that make it to our boat. After all, the people fleeing Central America et al. are not the propsperous and powerful. The prosperous already have things the way they like them. It's the desperate who are likely to attempt to emigrate; leaving one's home behind is not a privilege, it's a survival tactic. Not that they all survive. (Sonia Nazario's 2006 book "Enrique's Journey" describes the trip, specifically that from Honduras to the American South. It's well worth a read.)

      I also can't take the view that the Christian approach to our metaphorical boat is to throw people off the boat, strong or weak. That implies that there is not enough boat to go round, so to speak, and, as I said in my post, I believe there is plenty of boat in this country, and that the economic problem has more to do with our selfishness than with actual scarcity. This does of course make it *likely* that we will throw people off the boat, but in a way that's what I'm objecting to in the first place, and there's no arrangement of throwing people off that would make me okay with it.

      As for actively rescuing people -- well, we can't. If people decide to leave their homes behind, we can welcome them; but we can't decide on their behalf that they should leave. Similarly, while I haven't heard before of the concept of safe zones, it pretty much sounds like establishing a military protectorate, which is imperialism (America is not the planet's police), or just an invasion (which is never licit morally in the first place). One nation meddling with the internal affairs of another nation is, as a rule, wrong -- and still more, meddling with the individual lives of its people, which I don't like even when a government does it to its own people.

      But I distinguish between such meddling and immigration because immigrants are individual people. They don't have the power as individuals to interfere in the affairs of a state; and yes, a general mass of immigrants will probably influence a culture, if they're from the same or similar places -- but that need not be a bad thing, and anyhow I don't know that Americans can reasonably object to it. Such objections would make the Cherokee laugh, that's for sure.

      It's not clear to me why refugee status should always be temporary. (If you're using the term 'refugee' in a technical, legal sense, then there may well be reasons I have no familiarity with.) There's no guarantee that the territory a refugee has escaped will ever be safe to return to, after all.

    2. As for putting out fires, personally I believe we often busy ourselves with fires when we have little right to. I was against the invasion of Iraq, as I am against our military action in Yemen and Syria. If and to the extent that there are people clamoring for the US to solve problems, I'm of the opinion that that clamor should either be ignored or answered with humanitarian aid. Cleaning up the messes we've made by past military action is a slightly different problem, though in those circumstances I think that humanitarian aid is obligatory rather than optional. I'm sure that has a lot of complications attached that I don't understand -- but it is readily distinguishable from war (and from the cowardly and duplicitous tactic of renaming an invasion a "police action").

      I don't care for the sentence "At what point does it become the responsibility of brown people to take up agency and solve their own problems for themselves?" I don't believe that a person's heritage has anything to do with any of this; I very much hope that isn't what you're trying to say. And please don't say that I know what you mean, because I really don't.

      But, as for taking responsibility for themselves, who says they weren't? The violence that has devastated or destabilized so many nations in Latin America and the Middle East over the past seventy years, and longer, isn't a result of people not being mature. Some of it is a direct result of military interference from Euro-American powers, up to and including the creation of the state of Israel (legitimate enough in itself) and the subsequent dispossession and brutalization of the Palestinian people (not so legitimate). Or we can look at, just, everything about Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Panama. Or the Iranian regime, whose original coup was against an Anglo-American-backed regime under the Shah which had ousted the previous Iranian republic. Destroying someone's home and way of life, or backing those who do, and then telling them that their cries for help, dignity, and justice are irresponsible blame shifting is, well, irresponsible blame shifting.

      And honestly, there is some reasonableness in the "It's your fault, don't fix it" rhetoric. I don't know how common that line of rhetoric actually is. But when a person or group of people has screwed something up, it makes sense that the victims of the screw-up would both want that person or group to admit their own responsibility, and also leave them, the victims, alone. It might not be wise in every particular circumstance; but it's perfectly comprehensible. That's another part of the reason I would tend to support humanitarian aid and so forth as against military interventions. There is (I assume) a certain amount of meddling that aid involves, but it isn't comparable to the kind involved in taking charge by force: both because it doesn't mean killing people, and because it leaves room for their autonomy.

  4. Both the policy of separating children of illegal immigrants from their parents and the poor conditions that exist in some of some of the detention centers are not new; they were already happening under the previous administration. The viral photo of children behind a chain link fence, for example, dates from 2014:

    I mention this because I think that the good points you make about US immigration policy in this post are somewhat undercut by your overt animosity towards the current president. It is very fitting to criticize bad government policy, and I commend you for doing so; and the buck does stop with the chief executive, so it is appropriate to demand answers from him; but to support justified criticism of ongoing problems with accusations of racism and "ethnic cleansing" are tendentious and detract from your argument.

    Think for a moment; are you truly, before God and men, accusing this man whom you have never met of attempting to orchestrate the mass extermination of a people? Is that the dark design lurking behind decades of bipartisan squabbling, neglect, and ineptitude, most of which he has had nothing to do with? And do you truly, honestly wish to bring the hackneyed but nonetheless serious charge of racism against him? And on such flimsy evidence? To take three examples conveniently grouped:

    "...he referred to latino nations as shitholes..." You yourself have acknowledged that many of the states illegal immigrants are arriving from have serious problems. You may disagree (as I do) with the impolitic, uncouth, and un-presidential language that was used, but to see this is as a racist statement against specifically latino nations is not supported by the evidence.

    " people as animals..." The president was referring to the members of the gang MS-13, whose motto is "Kill, Steal, Rape, Control". This is clear from the context, but he later further clarified it. You may object once again to the language used, but to see it as a racist statement directed at all latino people is not supported by the evidence.

    "...neo-Nazis as having good people among them..." The president has said that he was referring to all the marchers present in Charlottesville. Some of them were there, not as neo-Nazis, but to oppose the removal of monuments or simply to support the right to free speech while disagreeing with what was being said. You may choose not to accept the president's clarification of what he meant, but I hope you see that for many people (including myself) his statement is not the clear evidence of racism that you seem to think it is.

    And finally, do you wish to declare that if I do not share your opinion that the president is a racist, I am taking the Lord's name in vain? At least, that's what it seems you are saying; the outrage at the situation and the animosity for the man are so conflated in this post that I can't separate them.

    As a long-time lurker, first-time commenter, I suppose I don't have much grounds for lecturing you. Indeed, I wish that I had commented before today, so that the first time I break silence would not have to be criticizing what I see as a rare lapse on your part. For what it's worth, I have found you to be a valuable resource in my own struggle to live chastely as a same-sex attracted, Catholic man. I may not always agree with everything that you say, but I have almost always found it to be excellent food for thought, and consistently clear, well-written, and well thought-out, at that.

    1. I'm grateful for your good opinion. Please, pray for me. (By the way, why on earth should you not have grounds for lecturing me? Everything on this blog is just me talking, and I'm just some dude: ergo, as also some dude, your voice is at least as legitimate as mine. And it isn't like I abstain from lecturing people who I assume don't even read this.)

      As to accusing the President of racism, no, that isn't the principal thrust of the argument. I said -- and meant -- that he may not be, though I am finding it more and more difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. I certainly don't mean that anybody has to believe that Trump is a racist in order to be a good Christian, which would be ridiculous as well as arrogant, and I'm sorry to have left that impression.

      I do also have lots of other complaints about Trump and his influence, obviously. For what it's worth, I objected to our immigration laws and practices under Obama as well (though not as vociferously, largely because I knew less about them), although more of my frustration and anger with the previous administration was connected to its involvement in war crimes and torture, as well as the asinine manner in which the ACA was passed; but I digress. Still, Obama scared me less than the current President does. I thought and think that many of his actions, or those he allowed to go on unchecked, were vile, and I don't hesitate to classify him as a war criminal, based on the use of drones and the horrifying scale of civilian deaths during his tenure. But he scared me less because he was a normal politician and, thus, a known quantity.

  5. Ah, but you are Some Dude with a Blog, meaning you have the courage to put yourself out there regularly, whereas I am Some Dude in the Comment Section, a type known for sniping from behind the cover of anonymity (it is easier to tear down than to build, etc.) To put it another way, I'm a guest in your house, and what sort of guest is it whose first contribution to the conversation is to criticize his host? I guess all I meant was that I wish I had established my esteem for you in some way beforehand, and I'm doubly grateful for your gracious response.

    I think perhaps our points of view are more similar than I had thought. Of course I will pray for you; of your mercy, please throw one up for me as well.

    1. Sure, but this house is the internet, where courtesies go to die in noisy agony.

      In all seriousness, thank you back for your graciousness, and I'm happy to pray for you.