After President Trump ordered thousands of children taken away from their parents whenever families were caught crossing the border, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics called it child abuse and noted permanent emotional and even physical harm.
Like many parents, I found my heart going out to the children I saw in the news - the toddler crying as his mother was led away in handcuffs, the young child's face pressed up against a wire enclosure, the hundreds of children sleeping on the concrete floor of what looked like the kennel where I board my dog. My first reaction was, "Why isn't America better than this?"
Two years later, the White House responded to a lawsuit claiming that children were still being endangered by saying that making them sleep on the floor of a pen and denying them soap, toothpaste, and showers for weeks might be adequate, "safe and sanitary" housing and care.
The last straw for me was reading about the "iceboxes", enclosures left so cold that one mother testified her child's lips and fingers turned blue, and about children as young as eight being asked by guards to take care of much younger children, sometimes at random.
But after I worked past my outrage and sorrow, all that got me to thinking outside the box. Given our country's well-deserved reputation, why on earth couldn't American ingenuity come up with a better solution?
What first came to my mind is, of course, almost certainly not the best possible answer. . . but that just makes it even clearer how much more could be accomplished if we sidestep the political impasse and deliberately try to come at the problem (and others) from a new direction.
President Trump has railed against how vicious some Central American gangs are, making the murder rates in some of those countries among the highest in the world. Parents may be given a choice: let your son become a drug mule and your daughter become the gang's sex slave, or your whole family will be executed. So let's assume that we have an obligation as Christians to help our fellow Christians when they come here (rather than deliberately make the problem worse, as President Trump has done by cutting off aid to the worst-hit countries precisely because refugees were coming here - and driving even more to flee).
Elsewhere, the problems may be different, but the risk of death is the same. . . In Syria, many years of civil war have included the use of poison gas in cities, the deliberate bombing of hospitals even after they were buried underground, and mass torture. Don't we also have a Christian obligation to help Syria's refugees when they ask for our help (rather than banning them on religious grounds)?
In Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of members of a minority group were driven out of the country as the military burned their villages, committed mass rapes, and caused famine by destroying their crops, because it didn't believe they had any right to live there. Again, let's assume it's our Christian duty to aid them.
President Trump has responded that we can't do that - our country must instead turn them all away, because it is "too full". . . and that triggered what I call "one of my nitwit ideas." It made me recall reading that a lot of agricultural land in the Midwest has gotten so much emptier that it once again meets our country's original definition of the frontier (less than two people per square mile). So, I pictured other countries establishing branch embassies there - and our government permitting the people who are now desperate enough to walk a thousand miles and risk their lives crossing deserts in 120-degree heat to go to those embassies instead.
After several years, they would have to return home to make room for new arrivals, but in the meantime they would be safe. (And even those who stayed behind might be safer: for example, gangs would have less ability to threaten children into becoming new members.) They could farm or start businesses just as they would have at home. And our own companies would benefit by getting access to new markets.
We could put sensors and motion-activated surveillance cameras with night vision around the embassies, to make sure the "embassy staff members" stayed put, far more easily than we could build and guard a 2,000-mile wall across rivers and mountains. Since we could revoke a country's permission to operate its "embassy" if people even tried to leave, their governments would have a big stake in thoroughly vetting everyone applying to become a "staffer", and everyone inside would have a big stake in seeing that the embassy caused us absolutely no problems.
The number of people coming to settle here permanently without permission should drop drastically. People would also no longer have to risk death crossing the border. . . saving thousands of lives. Finally, smugglers would still pay people to carry drugs in but they would stand out much better once we eliminated the crowds who are crossing because they have had to flee their homes. Thus, wouldn't our southern border become much more secure, and wouldn't illegal immigration be slashed, as the President wants?
And personally, I wouldn't miss the photos of preschoolers looking at me from wire pens or drowned in a river. . . Would you?