by Dr. Jesse Jackson
“Yes, if we don’t get what we want, one way or the other … I will shut down the government,” said President Trump to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, referring to his demand for $5 billion to build his border wall.
If Trump insists, a good portion of the government will be shut down on Friday over his wall. Trump festooned his demand with his customary lies, claiming that much of the wall has already been built (it hasn’t), that immigrants are spreading disease (they aren’t), that border agents recently detained “10 terrorists in a short period of time” (they didn’t). In reality, illegal immigration has been declining, not rising.
This isn’t a crisis; it’s a political ploy designed to fan fear and division. The Bible teaches us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We will be judged by how we treat the least of these. In Luke, chapter 10, Jesus tells the story of the stranger on the Jericho Road, who was robbed, stripped and beaten by a band of thieves. He is ignored by a priest and a religious official. He is saved by a Samaritan — a people who were widely despised at the time — who binds his wounds, takes him to an inn and pays his fare.
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus instructs. In contrast, Trump slanders the strangers. His administration has ripped babies from their parents, shackled pregnant women, locked up thousands indefinitely. He has constricted legal immigration, even as employers seek new workers as the baby boomers age and retire. And now he threatens to shut down a good part of our own government unless he can waste billions on the wall that Mexico won’t pay for. In the midterm elections, Trump, worried about mobilizing his base, descended into hysteria, threatening to revoke the citizenship of those born here — a direct violation of the Constitution — rousing fears about a supposed invading army of migrants, eventually dispatching 7,000 troops to the border, an insult to our military and to our border patrols.
He succeeded in raising the importance of the issue, but he lost the argument. Democrats swept to a majority in the House. Polls showed most Americans still believe that immigrants benefit this nation, as opposed to costing it. The percentage of Americans supporting lower levels of immigration has fallen from a high of nearly two-thirds in the mid-1990s to an all-time low of less than 30 percent in June.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who immigrated from India at 16 and is the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives and one of 12 naturalized citizens, notes that a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill exists — one that once got 68 votes in the U.S. Senate. It paid for more border security, while providing a clear road map to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented, including the Dreamers, and fixed many of the problems of our system: outdated family visa caps, cruel immigration backlogs, and a failure to address pressing needs of employers. Trump, however, doesn’t seek a solution; he seeks the preservation of an issue — one that he believes can help him divide and conquer. What’s needed instead, as Rep. Jayapal wrote, is a moral imagination about immigration.
This is not about “open borders,” as Trump slanders Democrats. It is about creating a humane, sensible, smart system to deal with legal immigration, cut down on illegal entry and address those desperately seeking asylum. We would also be wise to seek to assist rather than destabilize our neighbors so that their economies thrive. People don’t want to leave their homes. Only desperation for their families leads them to venture into the unknown.
As we head into this holiday season, it is a good time for each of us to look into our hearts, to see our neighbors without blinders. They aren’t seeking to invade America. They aren’t longing to leave their families, their homes, their communities. They are struggling to survive. They are strangers on the Jericho Road. We should meet them with an open heart, not a closed mind.