Missing the point over the border crisis

Until Congress does its job to reform immigration policy, we have no other option than sheltering and caring for the refugees.

By Mike Greer

On its web site The Minutemen Project says it is once again recruiting volunteers to guard the U.S.-Mexico border from “illegal immigration,” claiming the government has failed to do its job. Jim Gilchrist (strangely, his name means Christ’s servant), president of the organization, is inviting volunteers and militia groups to prepare to mount a World War II-style operation which he calls “Operation Normandy.” His plan is to set up shop along the “porous areas" of the border between San Diego and Brownsville, Texas, in order to stop what he calls an “invasion.”

Gilchrist has missed the point that many in Washington and many in the media have also missed. This crisis is best understood as a monumental refugee crisis.

Just what does Gilchrist think these soldiers (he is the one employing war terminology here) are going to do when they get to the border? When they see a large group of women and children headed their way will they shoot them? Will they erect a barricade and force those desperate men, women and children to sit in the hot desert sun until they die from either starvation or dehydration? Will they just round them up and abduct them (I use the word abduct since they are not law-enforcement officials)?

What then? Will they arrange for these thousands of men, women, and children to disappear? Will they hand them over to the government they despise above all others — the U.S. government? Will they charter a flight to some secret Latin American location?

Most of the debate in this country about sealing the borders misses the real point. Let’s say we had a 100-foot-tall fence that stretched from the western coast of California to the eastern edge of Texas. Let’s say that this fence was electrified and that there was an armed guard posted every hundred feet.

What would we do if we were among those guards, looked up and saw thousands of desperate children standing on the other side of that fence, begging us to help them? What would we do when we realized that some were being electrocuted as they tried to climb that fence in desperation? What would we do if we noticed that many others were in no shape to turn around and head back into the deadly wasteland they just came through?

What would become of this nation if we all just stood and watched these human beings die and did nothing? The reasons or motivations of those who were standing there in front of us would not really matter at all, would they? We all know that it would be the end of us as a nation if we did nothing compassionate. Our national soul would be so tarnished that none of us would have a future where we could hold our head up.

So what do we do? Thankfully, we are doing something compassionate. We are not turning those who are obviously not criminals away at the border. We must do more. We must let the president, the border patrol and the courts do their jobs. We must give them the resources they need today, if not yesterday. Congress should comply immediately with the president’s current crisis management requests, without strings attached. We should find places of refuge all across this nation for these families and children who are now standing at our nation’s doorstep. Churches and charitable organizations all across the country can contribute to a practical and temporary solution to the immediate crisis. We can treat these people as all human beings deserve to be treated. As someone famous once said, we can treat them like we would like to be treated if we were in their shoes.

What our politicians do next is of course up to them. Returning to the arena of the imaginary let us envision a day soon when Republicans and Democrats in Congress stop obsessing about the presidency and begin to work together to craft an intelligent and comprehensive reform of our immigration policies and laws. But until Congress does its job we have no other options. We must shelter and care for these refugees.

Let us put our current border crisis in perspective. The president suggests that we make an emergency expenditure of around $4 billion to manage this crisis. In comparison, we will soon have spent more than $6 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and we are nowhere near being finished with paying for all of the costs associated with those wars.

Today tiny Jordan, with a population of around 6 million, is caring for close to 1 million displaced human beings. The number of Syrian refugees who are housed in refugee camps and cities in Turkey has reached 1.05 million. Lebanon’s refugee population is expected to hit 1.5 million by the end of the year. This will mean that soon a third of the population of that small country of 4 million will be refugees.

This nation should follow the examples of the Muslim and Christian people of the Middle East. Their examples make us look rather petty when we argue that we cannot afford to take in a sizeable number of the world’s most vulnerable and threatened.

The reality is that the world has entered into a period of intense and unprecedented human suffering. There are no fences tall enough or strong enough to forever wall the world’s suffering out. No wall can protect us from the nightmare overtaking our fellow human beings in every corner of this globe. It is time to face reality. It is time for America to do more than just make war.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.