Utter Lack of Imagination

Illustration by waldryano

When I started this blog I knew it would not be about my family only. I want to talk about very different multicultural families, including families whose circumstances are not by any means as comfortable as ours. There are several reasons for this. The first that comes to my mind is that, when you have a cushioned life, the least you can do is acknowledge it and try to remain aware of it.

The immigration crisis now unfolding at the southern border of America is a stark illustration of the hardship experienced by many aspiring multicultural families. Regardless of its purpose – deterrence or pandering to a coveted electoral base, when a government decides to systematically separate families trying to enter its territory without permission, such a policy is bound to have long-lasting consequences.

The anguish it creates in detained parents and other grown-up relatives is surpassed only by the distress imposed on their children. I don’t see how a young child suddenly taken away from his family could not be scarred for life. The poorly organized (at best) oversight of communication and family reunion is of course compounding the trauma. Even since the government suspended its policy of separating families last week the fate of over 2,000 children taken away has remained in limbo. What can it mean for a child to wait weeks or months to be reunited to his family, with no clear indication of when it will happen, and the fear that it will not?

Meanwhile, America is also harming herself of course. She has arguably much more to lose than any other country, as a superpower, as a standard-bearer for democracy, and, not least, as a country built by immigration. In modern times each country exercises some degree of supervision on who can cross its borders and who can live on its territory, and that is a sound principle. Each country needs rules to organize its society. But a line is crossed when the law lacks basic humanity or when it is enforced without basic humanity as a matter of policy. Such line crossing is a blot that cannot be removed. Making it up will take years, if not decades.

Like many society problems it seems to me that one has to look at the current immigration crisis from two perspectives: as an individual and as a member of society. As an individual, I can only see that I have done nothing to live in a safe and comfortable place. It just so happens that I was born the citizen of a reasonably safe and comfortable country. Pure luck, not something I deserve or should feel entitled to. So, as an individual, how can I deny another person the right to share my luck? Whether they are trying to escape death, violence, discrimination, or simply aiming at a better life for their family, how could I say they are less worthy of it than I am? It strikes me that many people in developed countries do not seem capable of realizing that the roles could be reversed. When it comes to children taken away, it is really an utter lack of imagination for a parent not to feel the pain inflicted to fellow humans. Sadly, even seeing pictures and hearing recordings of crying toddlers does not seem to be enough for some first-world citizens to grasp this could be happening to their own children under less fortunate circumstances…

Granted, there is also the society perspective, which is just as valid. It is legitimate for a nation to be selective when it comes to the non-citizens entering its territory. This, the main argument of those who supported the family separation policy, is actually common ground with most opponents of the policy. Deterrence, that is the contention that the policy would result in much fewer families taking the risk of trying to enter without permission, is more blurry. We don’t know that for sure. It all depends on what these families are trying to escape – some of them come to seek asylum – and on how much they value settling in America. But even assuming deterrence is achieved in some cases we are back to the fact that a democratic society cannot have inhumane laws or enforce them in an inhumane way without undermining its own foundation.

There is order and chaos in this world. There is order and some measure of chaos in each of our lives. One thing we can do is be aware of this and strive for balance day in day out. Let’s not pretend that things are very simple. Let’s not pretend either that they are too complicated for us to engage and try to do the right thing. This Saturday I will go downtown Cleveland to demonstrate and express my concerns about what’s happening right now at the southern border of America.

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