As November approaches, Trump releases his “greatest” hits album

Trump Tulsa

The coronavirus is spiking again. The country is in the midst of what might be an unprecedented conversation about race. And polls show that Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden by a considerable margin.

Trump is desperate. If he loses in November, he will limp back to New York as arguably the worst president in United States history.  His growing sense of hopelessness and despair is leading him to double-down on the issues that got him elected in 2016. It’s like a Trump greatest hits album.

It’s going to be a really bad album, but a lot of people will buy it between now and November.

Evangelicals Urge Trump to Release People From Immigration Detention Facilities

SamuelRodriguez-a

Court evangelical Samuel Rodriguez

Here is the Associated Press:

NEW YORK – Nine leaders at evangelical Christian organizations are urging the Trump administration to release people from immigration detention facilities “who do not pose a threat to public safety” during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly those who are elderly or otherwise at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

In a letter sent Monday to Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the evangelicals called for alliances with religious and other local groups to help find released detainees “safe accommodations in which to ‘shelter in place’ for as long as such practices are advised.” Such actions to aid social distancing in detention, the faith leaders wrote, would help staff as well as detained migrants.

“Our concern is rooted in our Christian belief that each human life is made in the image of God and thus precious, and, like you, we want to do everything possible to minimize the loss of life as a result of this pandemic,” the prominent evangelicals wrote.

The evangelicals signing the letter said they would “encourage the many churches and ministries within our networks to provide any assistance they can” to help released detainees shelter safely.

Shared with The Associated Press in advance of its public release, the letter was signed by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, among others.

Read the rest here.

Rodriguez is a prominent Trump court evangelical, but has often broken with the president on immigration issues.

Historians on “Foreign Viruses”

 

immigrants Italian

In Thursday night’s address to the nation, Donald Trump said the coronavirus was a “foreign virus.” CNN asked several historians to reflect historically on this claim.  Here is a taste of Catherine Choicet’s piece:

For immigration historians and other scholars, the way US President Donald Trump is describing the coronavirus pandemic has a familiar ring.

“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump said in an Oval Office address Wednesday night. “I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”

As soon as Trump’s words describing a “foreign virus” hit the airwaves, Nükhet Varlik knew she’d heard them before.

“We’ve had plenty of examples of this in the past. It’s mindblowing that this still continues,” said Varlik, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and at the University of South Carolina.

“It opens up the ways of thinking about disease in dangerous ways,” she said. “Once you open that door…historically we have examples, we know where it goes. And we don’t want to go there. I find it extremely dangerous.”

It’s the latest chapter in a story that historians see as centuries in the making. From the plague to SARS, whenever an outbreak spread, racism and xenophobia weren’t far behind.

Here’s what scholars told CNN about some of history’s shameful episodes, and the lessons we can learn from them.

Read the rest here.

What Does 1856 Have To Do With 2020?

Fremont

John Fremont: Republican Candidate for Fifteenth President of the United States

There are some striking similarities between the Election of 1856 and the Election of 2020. Read about them at NPR’s Steve Inskeep‘s recent piece at The New York Times: “It’s 1856 All Over Again.”

What are lessons for 2020? Expect a terrifying year. What drives Americans to extremes is not losing an election but the fear of losing for all time. As Democrats and progressives count on an evermore diverse population to ensure victory, some of President Trump’s supporters foresee permanent defeat. Fox News stokes dread of demographic change with repeated images of migrants climbing fences. The president told supporters as a candidate in 2016 that he was their “last chance” to save the country.

Some of Mr. Trump’s critics fear permanent defeat for their side as he appoints judges who could remake the courts for a generation and dismisses limits on his power by asserting “the right to do whatever I want as president.” He has tweaked his critics’ anxieties, once sharing a social media meme that showed him unconstitutionally returned to office after 2020 — in 2024, 2028, 2032 and far beyond.

When politicians exploit such fears, voters can find an antidote by recalling the aftermath of 1856. Whatever the result in 2020 — and it’s a safe bet that close to half of us will consider it a disaster — another election will follow. We hope.

Read the entire piece here.

Historians Approve Anti-ICE Resolution

AHA2020 Carousel Slide test

At its annual meeting in New York City, the American Historical Association approved the following resolution:

RESOLUTION CONDEMNING AFFILIATIONS BETWEEN ICE AND HIGHER EDUCATION

In light of the serious and systematic violation of human rights committed by both the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol (USBP) in recent years—and considering their presence on US university campuses for recruitment and research purposes—we resolve the following:

WHEREAS, several US universities have contracts with and host recruitment for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the US Border Patrol (USBP); 

WHEREAS, ICE and USBP have been cited for numerous human rights abuses at the border and in detention facilities; 

WHEREAS university contracts with ICE and USBP legitimate both agencies as a branch of government and potential employers; therefore, be it

Resolved, that the AHA urge university faculty, staff, and administrators to sever existing ties and forgo future contracts with ICE and USBP; and

Resolved,that the AHA support sanctuary movements on campuses that seek to protect immigrant students and workers.

I am not sure what this resolution has to do with the study of history.  If I was present I would have rejected it. The AHA is not a political organization.  In this sense, I am mostly in agreement with the former AHA president and Cornell University historian Mary Beth Norton.  Here is a taste of a recent piece at Inside Higher Education:

Members of the American Historical Association approved a resolution condemning college and university contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 70 to 60, at their annual meeting over the weekend. They approved an additional statement in support of professors teaching off the tenure track, but voted down two resolutions expressing concern about academic freedom in Israel.

The successful resolution on ICE now goes to the AHA’s governing council for further consideration. Per association policies and procedures, the council may accept it, refuse to concur or exercise a veto.

Alexander Avina, associate professor at Arizona State University, was the first to speak in favor of the resolution, saying that his own parents were undocumented migrants and that he now teaches such immigrants in the borderlands. He urged the AHA to take “a stand against ongoing state terrorism” and the idea that universities should make millions of dollars by working with agencies that perpetrate it.

Ashley Black, a visiting assistant professor of history at California State University at Stanislaus, said she teaches students who were part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and who now live in a “state of fear and insecurity.” She asked the AHA to endorse campuses as sanctuaries in the interest of student safety and learning.

ICE had no vocal fans in the room, but a number of historians spoke out against the resolution on the grounds that it strays from AHA’s mission and established rules and practices. Mary Beth Norton, former AHA president and Mary Donlon Alger Professor Emerita at Cornell University, said she might support a resolution that adhered to the AHA’s Guiding Principles on Taking a Public Stance, highlighting threats to historical sources, academic freedom and historians’ movement. Yet she did not support the resolution as written.

Norton said later that the document said “nothing about historical scholarship or historians. Accordingly, it is outside the purview if the AHA as an organization, even though expressing outrage about ICE is entirely appropriate for individual historians in their capacity as citizens.”  

Avina said that he and his colleagues behind the resolution hope that the council will “accept and publicly support” it.

Read the entire piece here.

Undocumented Immigrants are Worried About Attending the “Evangelicals for Trump” Event on January 3, 2020

Guilermo

Guillermo Maldonado, pastor of King Jesus International Ministry

Donald Trump has chosen to host his “Evangelicals for Trump” rally at King Jesus International Ministry, a megachurch in Miami.  Yesterday, during Sunday services as the church, pastor Guillermo Maldonado had to calm the fears of his undocumented parishioners.  Many of them apparently felt that there was a chance Trump would try to deport them.

Here is a taste of a piece at the Miami Herald:

The Miami pastor whose megachurch is hosting President Donald Trump this week told undocumented parishioners at a Sunday service that he guaranteed they would not risk deportation if they decided to attend the president’s event on Friday.

“You don’t have to be a citizen. And I will give you an affirmation as your spiritual father and your pastor. First, someone said, ‘But how can you bring Trump to church if there’s people who don’t have papers?’ ” Pastor Guillermo Maldonado told his audience of hundreds, referencing Trump’s hard-line anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.

“I ask you: Do you think I would do something where I would endanger my people? I’m not that dumb.”

Maldonado, a Honduran evangelical pastor who goes by the term of “apostle,” said the King Jesus International Ministry church had been chosen by the president to host about 70 Christian pastors to “talk” and “influence” the president, during a first-ever Evangelicals for Trump rally.

Read the rest here.

This is a fascinating development.  Trump’s choice to have his “Evangelicals for Trump” rally at this church may force him to reconcile his commitment to evangelicals with his crackdown on undocumented immigrants.  I hope a journalists asks Trump about this.  I am interested in his response.

At this point, I have not seen anything about the speaker line-up at the event.

Can Democracy Survive Our Current Moment?

Donkey and Elephant

What is causing our political polarization? Can democracy survive our current political climate? Atlantic senior editor Yoni Appelbaum joins others, such as Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (those who attended Levitsky’s recent lecture at Messiah College will find a lot that sounds familiar in Appelbaum’s argument), in suggesting that the GOP is having a hard time dealing with demographic change.  I made the same argument for white evangelicals in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Robert Jones argues something similar in The End of White Christian America.

Appelbaum, however, has not given up hope.  He turns to history:

The right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.

The years around the First World War offer another example. A flood of immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, left many white Protestants feeling threatened. In rapid succession, the nation instituted Prohibition, in part to regulate the social habits of these new populations; staged the Palmer Raids, which rounded up thousands of political radicals and deported hundreds; saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as a national organization with millions of members, including tens of thousands who marched openly through Washington, D.C.; and passed new immigration laws, slamming shut the doors to the United States.

Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was at the forefront of this nativist backlash. Four years after Wilson left office, the party faced a battle between Wilson’s son-in-law and Al Smith—a New York Catholic of Irish, German, and Italian extraction who opposed Prohibition and denounced lynching—for the presidential nomination. The convention deadlocked for more than 100 ballots, ultimately settling on an obscure nominee. But in the next nominating fight, four years after that, Smith prevailed, shouldering aside the nativist forces within the party. He brought together newly enfranchised women and the ethnic voters of growing industrial cities. The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.

Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.

Read the entire piece here.

“Welcoming the Stranger”

border-control-crisis

Back in July, I spoke with journalist Menachem Wecker about evangelicals and immigration.  I completely forgot about this conversation until I saw Wecker’s recent piece at Religion & Politics: “For Many Immigration Activits, Welcoming ‘Strangers’ Is an Act of Faith.’  Here is a taste:

Among American evangelical Christians, there are longstanding and deep divisions on immigration and refugees, John Fea, professor of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, says. Fea is the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. The spectrum of evangelical views on immigration range from Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners magazine and author of the 2013 op-ed “The Bible’s case for immigration reform,” and the National Association of Evangelicals on the left, to groups on the right like Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration, Fea says.

Those in the same camp as Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration largely oppose granting citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants affected by the DACA program, and would like to see borders either closely defended or severely restricted, Fea says. “[They] claim that these verses are manipulated by the evangelical opponents to serve their political interests,” he says. “Most claim that these verses about welcoming the stranger do not apply to illegal immigrants, because these immigrants are breaking the law.”

The essential evangelical division here, which divides along political lines, pits Christian compassion against rule of law. “The evangelical differences on immigration have been around for several decades, but right now politics seems to be shaping everything,” Fea says. “Almost all of the evangelicals, who support Trump’s Supreme Court nominations, [and] move of the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem … also oppose all forms of illegal immigration and are fearful about the arrival of these refugees. If they do have any moral qualms or pricks of conscience about the separation of families at the border or the treatment of refugees in detention centers, they do not speak up about it.”

Many white evangelicals, he says, believe that a wall is the only solution to the problem on the southern border. “They do not want to jeopardize their access to political power, because Trump is delivering on abortion and Supreme Court justices, and other issues that are more important to them than immigration reform,” Fea says. “Evangelical Christianity in America has been divided for a long time, but the immigration debate, and Trump’s handling of it, reveals this division perhaps more than anything else.”

Read the entire piece here.

David Barton’s Latest: The Reference to “Free White Persons” in the Naturalization Act of 1790 Was Meant to Curb Slavery

Immigration Act

Yes–I have primary sources too!

Earlier today on his Wallbuilders Live radio show, Christian Right activist David Barton made the following case about the Naturalization Act of 1790 and its assertion that citizenship in the new United States be afforded to only “free white persons”:

The Naturalization Act 1790, is the first immigration act passed by Congress. And, it set forth what it takes to be an immigrant to America. If you come here you have to be able to provide your own income for five years.

If you become a public ward of the government within five years, you go back home. You have to have good moral character and a religious recommendation from some organization. So, it was all about character and the type of people you wanted as inhabitants.

So, why is it white? Because this is part of the anti-slavery thing, that we’re not looking for more slaves to come in. It was shortly after this that George Washington passed the law that forbid the exportation of any slaves out of America.

And, Congress had already been notified by the Constitution that Hey we’re going to ban the slave trade as well. We don’t want more slaves coming into America. And, you have to realize that at that point in time, we’re still in the middle of the Atlantic slave trade.

And, sentiment against that is growing. So, there’s lots of slave ships coming out of Africa. We know that over that that four centuries, about 12.7 million slaves were taken out to Africa; and, while most of them did not come to the United States–the United States only got about 2.5 percent of all the slaves sent out of Africa.

Still, there was growing sentiment against the slave trade in America, saying, “Hey, we need to get out of slavery and end the slave trade.” So, that’s kind of the tone at the time this law is passed. Therefore, while this looks racist today, in the context of the times, this is really more about We’re not after more slaves coming in.

Read the entire statement here.

First, notice what the Naturalization Act of 1790 offers citizenship to only free white persons.  Barton argues that by restricting immigration to free white people, Congress was trying to curb the number of slaves coming into the country.

Second, let me say that this interpretation is an example of what happens when you allow politics to shape your understanding of the past.  Barton’s argument here is absurd, but he has to make such an argument to protect his beloved founding fathers.  He knows that this is what his audience needs to hear so he twists and mangles the past to fit his contemporary agenda. He also knows that this is the kind of stuff that keeps him in business.

Third, Barton is making this all up.  He has no evidence for this revisionism.  How do I know?  Because the authors of the Naturalization Act left no specific commentary to explain why they limited citizenship to “free white persons.” In fact, it was not until 1952, with the passing of the Immigration Act and Nationality Act, that Congress prohibited racial discrimination in naturalization.

Fourth, it is likely that Northerners and anti-slavery advocates supported the Naturalization Act of 1790 precisely because it limited citizenship to white people. Duke political scientist and ethicist Noah Pickus has argued that white American men in Congress responsible for the Act–even those who opposed slavery—were trying to imagine what life in the United States would look like after emancipation.  Very few of them wanted African-Americans integrated into white society through citizenship.

As Pickus writes in his book True Faith and Allegiance: Immigration and American Civil Nationalism, “many leaders agonized over the tension between blacks’ natural right to freedom and prudential concerns about an integrated nation.  The free white clause terminology was consistent in the minds of those who opposed slavery with ensuring a cohesive community.  The shared concern to establish a nationalist foundation for citizenship made it easier for all to agree on excluding blacks from citizenship.”  In other words, the framers of the Naturalization Act of 1790 wanted a white republic.

Pickus is also aware that the evidence is scant. So he makes an argument partially based on context.  He writes, “Arguments from silence are, of course, slippery things that depend heavily on the context into which the silence is set.” But Pickus also looks to future debates over emancipation (rather than 1790s debates over naturalization) to advance his argument.  His evidence is found there.

Fifth, there is nothing in the Naturalization Act of 1790 about immigrants being sent back to their home country if they became wards of the state.  Maybe I missed it.  Perhaps someone can double-check for me.  I am afraid that this is Barton trying to twist the act to make a subtle jab about today’s undocumented immigrants.

 

Waldman: Immigration is Making the United States a More Christian Nation

latin evangelicalsSteven Waldman, author of Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedommakes a very interesting point in a recent piece at Talking Points Memo.  After mentioning Trump’s anti-immigration policies and his defense of Christianity, Waldman writes: “It’s a stance we’ve come to expect, but there’s an irony to this.  At a moment when more and more Americans are unaffiliated with religion, immigration is providing a counterbalance.”

Here is a taste:

Beyond that, it is well known that for the past few decades Latino immigration has energized, and in some ways saved, the Catholic Church in the United States. About 40 percent of American Catholics are Hispanic, and they’re more likely to say religion is “very important” in their lives than white Catholics.

What’s less acknowledged is that Latinos have also bolstered evangelical communities. Some 16 million evangelicals are Hispanic, and about 15 percent of all immigrants are evangelical.

Beyond the specifics, I’d argue that immigration has been a key factor in strengthening religious freedom in the U.S. New immigrants are more likely to be religious and to say it’s important in their lives than the general population.

Read the entire piece here.

Emma Lazarus’s Biographer Weighs-In

Statue of Liberty

After the recent Ken Cuccinelli debacle, several outlets are doing a nice job of informing the public about Emma Lazarus and her relationship to American immigration history.  Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion interviews Princeton professor and Lazarus biographer Esther Schor.

The interview reminds us that Lazarus’s poem The New Colossus “has never represented America’s immigration policy.  It’s always been aspirational.”

Here is a taste:

Between the 1930s and now, it somehow went from an interventionist poem, making an argument not everyone agreed with, to something that a lot of people think of fundamentally American. By 1986, you write in your biography, at the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty, the poem was uncontroversially included. So, sometime between 1930 and 1986, what happened to change its status?

The poem began as a subversive poem. It’s literally subverting the meaning of the statue that the French intended it to have, which was to honor French republicanism and abolitionism. So Lazarus single-handedly changed what the statue meant.

That subversive poem becomes a bourgeois piety, at a certain point. The Cold War had something to do with it—in essence, the Statue of Liberty becomes a symbol of American liberty, as opposed to fascism. Irving Berlin set the poem to music and used it in “Miss Liberty” in 1949; the Statue of Liberty is also used in Saboteur, a 1942 Hitchcock movie. Then, “The New Colossus” is also taken up in the public schools as a recitation poem—it’s widely anthologized, read at civic gatherings. It’s hard to find a date, but I think the Cold War had a lot to do with it.

And my sense is it’s recovering its subversive power now. 

Yes, I wanted to ask your perspective on the recurrent resurfacings of the poem in our debate over immigration. On the left, the impulse seems to be to correct anti-immigration Trump officials by making reference to this poem’s ideals. Yet, the poem has always been representative of a particular point of view on American immigration—not a consensus position. It seems hard to point this out without undermining the authority of sentiments I basically agree with!

The poem has had its detractors, years before Stephen Miller. Most notably, David Duke, who published a whole chapter on Emma Lazarus in one of his books. Stormfront calls her the “Jewess who tried to ruin the U.S.” There’s an alt-right tradition of aiming right at the poem.

Think about it this way. What other left cause in this country, if we’re going to call immigration a “left” cause, which it is right now … what other cause has its poem? Where’s the health care sonnet, where’s the gerrymandering sonnet? We don’t have these. We happen to have this poem, and granted people have focused on two lines or a line and a half of it, but there it is. It just comes right out. I have this Google alert for “Give me your tired, your poor,” and at midnight I get all the uses of it, in the press. All over the world. I get things from Australia; Aberdeen, Scotland; Singapore… this poem is just on everybody’s lips.

Read the entire interview here.

What I Learned from Viewing 37 Immigration Maps

1903 Map

Back in February 2017, VOX published a series of maps under the title “37 Maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants.”  I recently spent some time with these maps and here is what I learned (or was reminded of):

  • Native Americans were immigrants
  • The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world, but Luxemborg and Israel have more immigrants per capita.
  • Prior to 1965, Germany sent the most immigrants to the United States.  After 1965, Mexico sent the most immigrants to the United States.
  • The most concentrated immigrant enclaves: French in southern Louisiana, Germans in the Dakotas, Norwegians in North Dakota, Dutch in western Michigan and northwest Iowa, West Indians in Manhattan, and French Canadians in North Dakota.
  • Slaves came to America from Africa, the West Indies, and South America by the hundreds of thousands as forced immigrants.
  • Over 17,000 migrants come to America a year as victims of human trafficking.
  • More immigrants to America speak English today than at any other point in American history
  • The grandchildren of Latino immigrants “barely speak Spanish.”
  • Immigrants are forestalling the decline of the Midwest
  • America was not a “global destination” until the 1965 Immigration Act
  • “Unauthorized immigration” was in a generally steady decline between 2000 and 2010.
  • The anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party candidate, Millard Fillmore, won the state of Maryland in the 1856 presidential election.
  • The U.S. “border zone” includes Bangor, Maine; Salem, Oregon; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Burlington, Vermont.

Look at the maps here and tell me what you take away from the exercise.

Ellis Island vs. the Mexican Border

Ellis Island

Megan Wolff is a historian and administrator at the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.  She was also an Ellis Island tour guide.  Over at CNN, she compares the immigrant experience at Ellis Island with present-day immigrants at the border.  It is worth a read.  Here is a taste:

Government officials blame the conditions on what they claim is an unprecedented surge in arrivals. “As you are aware, we are responding to a historical crisis at the border,” Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which oversees the network of shelters with custody over unaccompanied minors, told the New York Times in June. According to government data, border agents apprehended over 94,897 people at the southwest border in June, including 7,378 unaccompanied children. This spike in children traveling alone — 45% more than the same month last year — purportedly created such a “tremendous strain” on ORR’s resources that the agency ordered a halt to all educational, legal, and recreational programs for the children in its custody. At current rates, one conservative analyst predicted a “worst case scenario” in which slightly more than a million people will seek entry to the United States by the end of 2019.

But these so-called historic numbers are not all that historic. As recently as 2001, 1.2 million people arrived at the southwest border, and 1.6 million the year before that. Claims about an uncontrolled rise in unaccompanied minors can be similarly misleading. As Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, the legal director of immigration advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center explained to me, under the government’s current interpretation of immigration law, a child traveling with any adult other than a biological parent is considered to be “unaccompanied.” Many children arrive with dedicated caregivers (adult siblings, aunts or uncles, and so on) and find themselves alone in ORR’s overtaxed facilities.

Ellis Island was benign by comparison, though the number and age distribution of people who passed through its gates closely resembled the number now crossing our southern border. From 1905-1914 the station processed about 764,000 people a year, and over a million newcomers in 1907 alone. They presented themselves in much the same way that the current arrivals do: empty-handed in flight from something terrible, or in search of something better.

All told, the 12 million or so individuals who arrived as immigrants on Ellis experienced a bureaucracy that was bewildering but never punitive. They were herded and tagged, inspected and interrogated, but after a period of two to five hours the vast majority were free to enter the United States.

What this history of Ellis Island makes clear is that the contemporary failure to treat immigrants humanely is not the result of a demographic emergency but a policy decision, one every bit as tangible as the architecture of the border stations themselves, which are either designed to process immigrants or not to. Those on Ellis Island were constructed not to detain or reject immigrants but to sort them. The purpose was inclusion, derived from a national decision to admit new laborers and citizens to contribute to the industrial economy. Today’s immigration centers are an archipelago of border stations, detention sites, and tent facilities whose focus is deterrence. They are elements of a national border being put to unacceptable use as the result of a nativist moment of fear — fear of exhausted resources, of dangerous “outsiders,” and others. They are underfunded and inhumane because they are designed to be.

Read the entire piece here.

The National Association of Evangelicals Responds to the Border Crisis

Detention

Here is the official statement:

“As evangelical Christians, we believe that all people — regardless of their country of origin or legal status — are made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity and respect. Overcrowded and unsanitary conditions are inappropriate for anyone in detention, but particularly for children, who are uniquely vulnerable. Jesus reserves some of his strongest words of judgment for those who subject children to harm,” the leaders say in the letter, which was organized by the Evangelical Immigration Table.

Evangelicals are welcome to add their names to the letter here.

In the letter, evangelical leaders ask the administration and Congress to:

  • Immediately appropriate adequate funding and deploy appropriately trained staff to care for children and families who are held in temporary processing facilities and in facilities for unaccompanied children;
  • Respect and enforce the protections of U.S. asylum laws, ensuring that no one with a credible fear of torture or persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” is returned to their country of origin or forced to remain in unsafe third countries, and that all asylum seekers are afforded due process and treated humanely throughout the process;
  • Minimize the use of detention, especially the detention of children, and utilize effective alternatives to detention to ensure that those with pending asylum cases show up for court; except in cases when there is a valid reason to suspect that an individual presents a threat to public safety, families should be allowed to rely upon sponsoring relatives and friends throughout the U.S., or upon the assistance of local churches and non-profit organizations, rather than being detained at taxpayer expense;
  • Invest in the personnel and facilities necessary to adjudicate asylum requests in a more fair and timely fashion, ensuring that qualifying individuals are more quickly afforded legal status and employment authorization and that those who do not meet the legal requirements for asylum will not be incentivized by the possibility of an extended stay in the U.S. to make a dangerous journey;
  • Restore and expand U.S. assistance to faith-based and other nongovernmental organizations focused on developing opportunities and reducing poverty, violence and corruption in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, so that fewer families will feel that they have no choice but to leave their homelands; and
  • Respect the unity of the family both in the context of border enforcement and within the interior of the United States, not separating children from their parent(s) except in the rarest of circumstances when it is necessary for the wellbeing of a child.

James Dobson Visits the Border and Shows His Nativism

Detention

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.

Court Evangelicals Jerry Falwell Jr. and Jack Graham Attack Southern Baptist Russell Moore on Immigration

Detention

Over the past year or so I have been calling attention to  the ways the Trump administration has exposed a deepening divide in white American evangelicalism.

Back in July 17, 2017, in the Washington Post piece that introduced the phrase “court evangelicals” to a national audience, I wrote:

The court evangelicals are changing the religious landscape in the United States. The Trump presidency is only six months old, but it is already beginning to alter long-standing spiritual alignments. It seems as though Christians are not changing Trump, but rather that Trump could be changing Christianity.

Historians will write about this moment in terms of both continuity and change. On one hand, court evangelicals are part of a familiar story. For nearly half a century, evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world, and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.

And this:

The 20 percent of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump — many of whom are conservative politically and theologically — now seem to have a lot more in common with mainline Protestants. Some in my own circles have expressed a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.

Other evangelicals are experiencing a crisis of faith as they look around in their white congregations on Sunday morning and realize that so many fellow Christians were willing to turn a blind eye to all that Trump represents.

This division in white evangelicalism was on display again during Franklin Graham’s June 2 call to prayer for Donald Trump.  I wrote about that here.

Today we see yet another illustration of how nasty things are getting within white evangelicalism.  Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a staunch anti-Trumper, tweeted a response to an Associated Press story about the horrendous treatment of children on the Mexican-Texas border:

By all reports, the Associated Press, and by extension Moore, are correct about the moral problems on the border and the failure of the Trump administration to do anything about it.  As I posted yesterday, a Trump administration lawyer even tried to make a case that these children did not need soap, toothbrushes, or blankets.

But this did not stop the court evangelicals from pouncing.  Here is Jack Graham, pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church:

He followed-up with this:

Just for the record, Moore retweeted a report from the Associated Press, not CNN.

Another court evangelical who got into the mix was Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, a Christian school that claims it is the largest Christian university in the world.  (Actually, it is not, but we won’t go down that road right now).   I cannot embed Falwell Jr.’s tweet because he blocked me a long time ago, but I can quote it:

Who are you @drmoore? Have you ever made a payroll?  Have you ever built an organization of any type from scratch?  What give you authority to speak on any issue?  I’m being serious.  You’re nothing but an employee–a bureaucrat.

Wow!  There are so many things we could say about this single tweet. It not only captures the divide within white evangelicalism, but it also speaks volumes about Jerry Falwell Jr. as a Christian leader and educator.  Here are few comments:

  • Did Falwell Jr.? “build” Liberty University “from scratch?”  I think that honor belongs to his father.
  • Falwell Jr. appears to equate one’s validity to speak with moral authority with one’s business acumen.
  • Similarly, Falwell believes that people who are “employees” or “bureaucrats” have no moral authority to speak on social issues.  Is this how he treats his faculty members at Liberty University?  Like Moore, some of them have Ph.Ds and have earned the right to speak publicly on matters of expertise and social concern.  Is this the kind of culture Falwell Jr. has created at Liberty?
  • Perhaps it is comments like this that contribute to what I understand to be the recent decline in applications and enrollment at Liberty University.  And it would make perfect sense for a Christian university that has a leader who values only business skills to fire a dozen divinity school faculty.

And here is writer Jeet Heer:

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