James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism


Court evangelical James Dobson, the evangelical who is most associated with the idea of “family values,” visited the Mexican border and wrote a letter to his supporters.  I have published it here:

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, I was invited by White House staff to visit our southern border at McAllen, Texas, where federal agents are struggling to deal with a massive influx of poor and destitute human beings. They come in never-ending waves. Please believe me when I tell you that the media and leftist politicians have not been truthful about what is going on there. It is a human tragedy. 

I promised the exhausted U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents that I would go home and tell as many people as possible what I had seen “up close and personal.” Today, I am attempting to fulfill that commitment.

Approximately 5,500 people show up every day in districts organized along our southern U.S. border. McAllen is the site of only one of them, but it is the busiest and most besieged. The “refugees” arrive exhausted and ragged from walking hundreds of miles. Among them are large numbers of children, many of whom are unaccompanied by a caring adult. Last year, 382,000 aliens were apprehended for illegally crossing into this country and almost 100,000 of them were minors. Some of the kids have been abused along the way. Many of them carry lice, scabies or other diseases. Currently, the facility I visited is experiencing a flu epidemic, and there are no additional beds on which to lie. Some of the women have been raped. More than 70 people of all ages are sent to local hospitals daily along the southern border. Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, “overwhelmed.” It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.

The most heart-wrenching experience occurred during our tour of the holding area. It is a huge gym-like building consisting of dozens of fenced-in areas. Each one is crowded with detainees standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on benches. They stared out at us with plaintive eyes.

I noticed that almost none of them were talking to each other. The children looked traumatized and frightened. Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children. The week before we were there, a delegation of agents went to meet with members of Congress, and begged them for additional money to buy Pampers, toothbrushes, and other necessities. They were turned down flat. These meager supplies have to be purchased with the border patrol budget, which is stretched to the limit. 

I then walked up to a fenced area holding many skinny young men. An agent standing beside me asked if I would like to speak to them. He offered to translate for me, to which I replied, “Please tell them that God loves them.” Then I said, “Now tell them that I love them, too.” They smiled and waved timidly. 

My heart aches for these poor people. Lest I be misunderstood, let me make clear that I am among the majority of Americans who want the border to be closed to those who attempt to enter illegally. There has to be a better solution than this. I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin? The answer I received was “No,” for reasons I will explain.

Only 10 percent of the detainees are Mexicans. This year alone, people have come to our southern border from 127 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Palestine, Albania, San Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other nations around the world. They speak their native tongues, which means they can’t be understood by each other or the staff. What are we to do with them? The Mexican government will not take them back, and there is no place to send them. Our current laws do not permit us to repatriate them to their country of origin. This is a disaster with no solution or projected conclusion. 

Let me tell you how these desperate people come to be our responsibility. They are the lowest rung of many societies. They sell their shanties and any other possessions to scrape together $3,500 to $10,000 to pay “coyotes” to guide them. I don’t know what happens to those who can’t meet this demand. Apparently, most manage to pay the fee, and arrive penniless and profoundly needy. I was told that some of the vulnerable children are “recycled” repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country. An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners, and they are difficult to identify. Most make their way across the border.

Here’s something else you should know. I have been under the impression that these would-be immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande River and outrun or evade the agents. That is not true of most. They come in large groups, from 100 to 400 people at a time. As I write this letter, a record 1,200 people arrived together at El Paso. The refugees quickly give themselves up to agents. That is why they have made this journey. They know they will be fed, medicated, and treated humanely, even if they are in holding areas while they are in our custody. Then they will be released on American soil. This is the system set up by a liberal Congress and judges. It is a well-known fact that President Obama’s administration established many of these unworkable policies, and Congress is steadfastly unwilling to change them. Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored. It is set in stone. Democrats want massive numbers of immigrants who will someday become voters. Some Republicans support the policies because they want cheap labor for agricultural purposes. The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care. 

Getting back to my story, our group of national faith leaders and humanitarian organizations was taken to a grassy park underneath the international bridges where the “coyotes” bring the refugees. We stood 50 feet away from them and watched as about 200 people sat on the ground. Then buses arrived to transport them to Border Control. Agents have to work fast because another group will be showing up soon, and then another and another. The would-be immigrants are taken to the center and given cursory medical exams. Then they are segregated by sex and age and placed in the fenced-in areas to be held for the next 20 days until they are processed and given a Notice to Appear. If that sounds inhumane, what would you or I do? There is simply no other place to “house” them. 

Mismanagement of the border has a long history. A federal judge years ago issued a ruling called the Flores Settlement Agreement. It is still the source of many problems. It requires that any unaccompanied alien child must be released within 72 hours. This is now the law of the land, and poor people around the world know it. A single male typically seeks to find a child and a woman to help him “game the system.” Clearly, many of these are “fake families,” but there is no documentation in Pakistani or Bangladesh to challenge their claims. Lawyers at home have told them to claim that they are fleeing from oppression or seeking asylum. They are allowed to plead their cases to judges, but there are too few of them to keep up with the volume. These people are given a court case and released. The vast majority are never seen again. Most then become “anchor babies” who are citizens with rights to bring members of their families. Others are given transportation to an American city where they disappear into the culture. 

In addition to this influx of people from places around the world steeped in poverty and despair, Senator Chuck Schumer authored and helped pass a “lottery” system, whereby winners are brought to the United States. They become permanent residents, who then begin bringing their families to our shores. Thank you, Senator.

Ten years ago, 90 percent of illegals apprehended at the border were single males, mainly from Mexico. Now, more than 50 percent show up with babies and children, and 90 percent of them are from countries other than Mexico with 64 percent being family units or unaccompanied alien children. Together, they claim to be “families” and within three weeks, they will be home free in America. Is there any doubt why there have been more than half a million illegal immigrants this year alone?

Before I conclude, I must tell you about the agents who have to deal with this chaos. They are compassionate men and women, sworn to uphold federal law and protect our borders.

They obviously care about the detainees, and I respect them highly. They work tirelessly feeding people three times a day and providing clean clothing. They must also maintain the portable toilets in the cells. It is a never-ending task. There are only two large showers in the facility, one for males, the other for females. Their capacity is for only 20 people at a time, which is insufficient.

The border patrol agents administer this program, but most of them didn’t sign up to be caregivers. Agents were trained to patrol the border and apprehend drug runners, traffickers, smugglers, murderers, and every kind of lawbreaker. This is very dangerous work. But, please understand this: the border patrol agents are so busy caring for refugees seeking entry to the United States that they have very little time to police the borders. It is so porous that huge quantities of contraband, including all kinds of narcotics, flow into this country every day. Then it is transported northward to America’s cities to be consumed by adolescents and millennials. Lawless gangs, such as MS-13, are also pouring into the culture, making violence for inner cities a way of life. 

There is one more aspect to the work of the agents that you should know. They are openly hated by citizens who resent the work they do. They are routinely vilified and mocked and demonized. Their families are also subjected to ridicule. These agents need our appreciation and prayers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in America. 

The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it. Those who oppose him do everything they can to impede his effort. That is why I went to the border to see the situation for myself. I came away with an array of intense emotions. First, I was profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people. Second, I felt a deep appreciation for those who are doing their best to help in an impossible circumstance. Third, and frankly, I was angry at the political fat cats who have deliberately allowed this chaos to occur for political or financial gain. They, and their friends in the fake media, have told the American people that there is no crisis at the border! Shame on them all.

What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Thanks for letting me set the record straight.

Here are some thoughts:

1. James Dobson saw what is happening at the border and he believes that what he saw was immoral.  This separates Dobson from some other court evangelicals and “family values” advocates who think that there is no crisis of human dignity at the border.

2. When Dobson says “thank you” to Chuck Schumer for his lottery system I can’t tell if he is being serious or sarcastic.

3. Essentially, Dobson says that we must treat these refugees with Christian love.  He even told a group of detained men that Jesus loves them.  Then, several paragraphs later, he concludes that the building of Trump’s wall is the only way to solve this crisis.  I must admit, the early paragraphs of Dobson’s letter surprised me.  He seems to show real Christian compassion.  But then I got to the end of the letter only to find that his Christian compassion got hijacked by his nationalism.  We love you.  God loves you.  But you can’t come into our country.  Sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. But Trump and the politicians have failed to offer creative solutions for how to fix it.  Instead, they just blame their political opponents.  I am no expert, but there must be a way to balance compassion and security.

4. At the end of the letter, Dobson takes a really ugly turns toward nativism.  He says that these refugees and immigrants are unskilled, illiterate, unhealthy, and violent.  He adds that they will soon “overwhelm the culture  as we have known it.”  He makes an appeal to history: the United States has always been a generous, caring, and Christian country, but in this instance (italics mine) we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down….”

I italicized the words “in this instance” because Dobson makes it sounds as if Americans have been warm and fuzzy toward newcomers in the past, but this instance is different.  These immigrants, he suggests, are a serious threat to American culture.  Dobson shows his ignorance of American history here. Historically, this kind of nativism arises whenever people fear immigrants and they demographic change they bring to the country.  I have offered a few examples of this below.  Read these quotes carefully and notice how the rhetoric is nearly identical to the language Dobson uses in his letter.

In a May 9, 1753 letter to Peter Collinson, Benjamin Franklin described German immigrants as “the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.”  He did not believe that they could assimilate to our political culture, saying that since they are “not…used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it.”  He worried that these Germans were coming to America “in droves.” (Notice Dobson’s use of the word “flooding” to describe refugees).  Franklin concludes: “in short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies…they will soon so out number us , that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our [English] language, and even our Government will become precarious.”

In Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1751) he writes: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.”‘

In his 1835 speech, “A Plea for the West,” evangelical preacher and reformer Lyman Beecher warned against the “danger from the uneducated mind [that] is augmenting daily by the rapid influx of foreign emigrants, unacquainted with our institutions, unaccustomed to self-government, inaccessible to education, and easily accessible to prepossession, and inveterate credulity, and intrigue, and easily embodied and wielded by sinister design.” He added, “In the beginning this eruption of revolutionary Europe was not anticipated, and we opened our doors wide to the influx and naturalization of foreigners.  But it is become a terrific inundation; it has increased upon our native population from five to thirty-seven percent, and is every year advancing….”  Notice Beecher’s argument here.  We have always welcomed immigrants, but this instance (the influx of Irish Catholic immigrants) is different.

Here is nativist Frederick Saunders in 1856:  “The foreign voters, who are proved to be ignorant and in every incompetent, are admitted to the enjoyment of the electoral franchise.  We, who never knew what a blind and passive obedience to law is, can form no adequate idea of the recklessness and delirium which seize hold of so many foreign immigrants the moment they put foot upon our shores.  We admit that some of them are men of intellectual culture, while it will not be denied that too many are persons of the most degraded character, and destitute even of the most meager attainments….”  When I read this quote about Irish immigrants I thought about Dobson’s remarks about these immigrants voting for Democrats and their lack of education.

Here is Texas congressman John Box in 1928: “The admission of large and increasing number of Mexican peons to engage in all kinds of work is at variance with the American purpose to protect the wages of its working people and maintain their standard of living.  Mexican labor is not free; it is not well paid; its standard of living is low….To keep out the illiterate and the diseased is another essential part of the Nation’s immigration policy.  The Mexican peons are illiterate and ignorant.  Because of their unsanitary habits and living conditions and their vices they are especially subject to smallpox, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, and other dangerous contagions.”

Of course my own people (on my father’s side), the Italian immigrants who arrived to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, were also considered unclean, smelly, illiterate, unskilled, and violent.

There is nothing new about Dobson’s words here.  He is not only echoing his president, but he is also echoing some of the darker moments of American history.

14 thoughts on “James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism

  1. Thank you sir, for a rather valuable reflective piece over our own deep struggles of what it means to be human in this very dark world.


  2. If you tracked and read all the references documented in this insightful piece, you might have concluded differently before calling it ‘bias’.


  3. Started as a street gang among ethnic Salvadorians and grew into a major criminal organization. Kind of like the subject of Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York among other ethnic immigrants of the past. (And Asbury’s companion volumes: Gem of the Prairie about Chicago, The Barbary Coast about San Francisco, and The French Quarter about New Orleans.)


  4. Brilliant response to Dr. Dobson! Agreed, he started out with what seemed to be a Christ-like heartfelt dialogue about the crisis…..then he lost me! It was like man maybe he got this one right and then wait for it wait for it….boom! He dropped certainly a xenophobic and quasi-racist stance and as many have said fell into the trap of nativism. We can all agree ‘something’ has to be done. I think back to the McCain-Kennedy solution that sadly could not get passed a Republican congress. That was a common sense compassionate immigration reform that would ‘not’ require an obnoxious ‘border wall’ and would have likely diverted the tragedy we have before us today! Views like Dr. Dobson has expressed is really quite sad, shows his own ignorance and is an ugly representation of the body of Christ!


  5. Thank you for your thorough reply. I have been a Christian — raised by atheists — for 47 years, the last 21 of them spent in Colombia, South America. The difference in attitude of American Christians** and immigrants crossing the border into the US and Colombian Christians and the attitude toward Venezuelans (mostly in family groups, 1.4 million so far, Colombia has a population of 45 million and is not any where near as wealthy as the US) crossing into Colombia couldn’t be more different. Churches have set up feeding programs on the boarder, they have clothing drives (most Venezuelans come from coastal areas where it’s hot, Bogotá is chilly and rainy) and try to find them jobs — which is what they want and need more than handouts. The Colombian government offers medical care to pregnant women and children, especially vaccinations which haven’t been available in Venezuela for a long time. A few have been detained at the border but the vast majority are given a swift entrance.

    You did not mention Dobson’s reference to the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis entering through the Mexican border. His attempt to frighten us is shameless, less than 0.3% of those crossing from Mexico have been from countries other than Central America and Mexico, a very few from Mideastern countries and those have been detained to insure they were not a threat.

    Twenty-five Matthew is a good place to start reading about our duty to the displaced then maybe Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty.

    **Dobson doesn’t represent all Christians, his letter is disgusting to many of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent rebuttal. I thought many of the same thoughts when I read that letter as well. Dobson dehumanizes people in his very letter claiming they’re being dehumanized, because of Democrats but also not being humanized by Trump… and then also, makes excuses why it is ok to dehumanize them… just ridiculous.


  7. Dobson predicted that if Obama was elected the economy would fall into depression and all civil liberties would be lost.

    Do you mean that “warning from the future” letter he did back in 2008? The one where Homosexuality was Mandatory and the Christian writer of the warning didn’t know how “we’re going to survive this Persecution”?

    I’m an oSF litfan. Old school, since 1975. That letter from the future was LAME, even by the standards of “But I Send This Back In Time to You as a Warning” didactic propaganda sub-type of time travel. Pressed every Fear Manipulation button, hit every talking point and dog whistle of the Christianese Culture War crowd.

    There’s a difference between Art and Propaganda; not only to Fundagelicals show themselves lof producing art, but that one failed even as Propaganda.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am sick and tired of Cristians complaining of being mistreated in this country Keith. If you believe everything that James Dobson says then you are uneducated. James Dobson for years has lied to people to get his agenda passed. Here is another enlightening fact you might want to consider. Fox news and evangelical leaders have long set out to proclaim real news organizations and other institutions as fake to push an agenda. They want to discredit all of the people who not only point out their lies, but stand in the way of the propaganda they spread. An example of this is how they blame all societal woes on liberals. Illegal immigration is not a product of liberals only, and your ignorance shows in assuming that liberals want open borders. In fact Barack Obama had one of the strictest immigration policies in our history, but they were also based on compassion. One of the fatest lies of the conservative media is that Obama separated families at the border and that Trump just continued that policy. A little fact checking will tell you that is just not true. A little fact checking will also tell you that people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean hannity have long been discredited for their lies. There is No such thing as alternative facts. Something is either true or it is not. What is true? It is a fact that we have a humanitarian crisis at the border that needs to be dealt with. The Flores act that Dr Dobson talks about, states that migrant children should be well taken care of while in custody, and at the earliest time be United with family members. The trump administration has separated families due to a no tolerance policy, and is arguing in court against supplying basic needs, such as soap and tooth brushes. At no time in the last forty years have migrants been denied basic humanitarian needs. My solution is that we need to intervene in the countries that these immigrants are defecting from and give them hope so that they dont feel like they have to come to America to keep their families alive and safe. We need to help them have financial opportunities where they live instead of the abject poverty that they live in now. Isn’t that the basis for conservative family values? Dr Dobson doesnt say a single thing about what jesus might have thought about what these people are going through. Do you think Jesus would have proposed building a wall, or trying to find a civilized solution to help these people? In proverbs 3: 27-28 Jesus says” Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say come back tomorrow and I will give it to you when you already have it with you.” Jesus also says In proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who can not speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Maybe you should pick up your bible someday and read about Jesus. I think you might find that he would be appalled at the actions of so called Christian leaders like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., or James Baker (who by the way has served prison time for fraud.). It is not an attack on Christians to point out unchristian like behavior, when in the face of some of the most vulnerable in the world trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, trekking hundreds of miles through entire countries to find hope, the only Christian solution is to build a wall! What Bible do you read Keith? What do you think Jesus would say about evangelicals throwing their hat behind a president who has exasperated the crisis at the border by separating families and has lied about it. He has blamed everything on the Democrats when in fact he had all three branches of government at the start of his Presidency. President Obama was way more of a family man than Trump, and held the border in check for the most part but was demonized by evangelicals because he supported a women’s right to choose, or he supported LGBT rights. If you are going to judge people based on the bible for those things, then why stop there? Do you want to really institute the bible in society and also pass judgement on these migrants for trying to protect their families? Do you really want to pass judgement on these immigrants as illiterate, criminals, and not worthy to be here? Not sure that is how God nor his Son Jesus would see it. No one wants open borders, we cant accept everyone trying to come in, but to assume as Dr Dobson has, that these people trying to come to America are not worthy, is a judgement that I’m not willing to make. My suggestion is that you better read the whole bible. Eventually you might find that it passes judgement on your way of thinking. By the way other Christian leaders that have been to the border have refuted Dr Dobsons so called facts about what he saw at the border. Are they too demonizing Christians when I fact they are Christians?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting read and a trashing of Mr Dobson. Should I expect a Christian to be treated any other way? Much I could say and comment about, and your bias certainly screams out in your writing, however he points the finger at all of our political leaders, not one party. You’ve missed this. He’s crying out for a solution and as he sees it there isn’t one and this is tragic. I think it is. As I watched the two dems presidential debates the last couple nights, they are in on mood to fix this either. Decriminalize the crossing will absolutely allow anyone and everyone to come for any reason. So step away from your hatred of Mr Dobson, or is it Christianity you hate, for a moment and suggest a solution. Or are you perfectly happy to have an open boarder?


  10. A small quibble with Rev. Dobson’s letter. MS-13 isn’t “pouring into our culture” from El Salvador, MS-13 is as American as apple pie. It was founded in Los Angeles.


  11. This letter is sad mixture of Christian language and xenophobia bordering on racism. So, about perfect for the Focus on the Family guy.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “It is kind of funny in a twisted way to think of this old white guy gawking at refugees from a distance and shouting”Jesus loves you!” and then mumbling under his breath, “Now go the hell away you smelly heathens!” It perfectly encapsulates American Christianity I’d say.”

    made me laugh. and it’s true


  13. About 15 years ago Dobson predicted that if we allowed gays to marry it would lead to the destruction of our health care system and economy (because gays transmit disease), and lead to people marrying animals. I heard a sermon in a Baptist church preached about that and it was stomach-turning and vile. Dobson predicted that if Obama was elected the economy would fall into depression and all civil liberties would be lost.

    Very little of what he has ever said has turned out to be right, and very little of his history is actually true, but that doesn’t stop him from having a platform to mislead and spread hate.

    It is kind of funny in a twisted way to think of this old white guy gawking at refugees from a distance and shouting”Jesus loves you!” and then mumbling under his breath, “Now go the hell away you smelly heathens!” It perfectly encapsulates American Christianity I’d say.

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