U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has implemented a policy that separates children from their parents at the border. This occurs even when families apply for asylum, a legal option for foreigners to enter this country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, an average of 67 children are being separated from their parents per day, and nearly 12,000 are currently in custody, an anticipated 20,000 by August.
As a deterrent to immigration – legal or illegal – this new policy may prove to be effective. But it is also cruel and inhumane, therefore unjustifiable regardless of its efficacy. Child psychologists assess that being forcibly yanked from one’s parents can potentially cause lifelong trauma. I imagine the parents as well are emotionally devastated.
Sessions defends his position with a Bible verse about following the law. Yet he forgets the one in which Jesus – when asked to define the greatest commandment – states that the first and greatest is to love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind and all of your strength. Jesus then goes on to identify the second most important commandment as “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is what 13 years of Catholic school education drilled into me anyway.
I leave the first mandate in the hands of the individual; it’s none of my business how much a person loves God. However, the second one connects me to everyone else in the world, even those whom I’ve never met. It’s the so-called Golden Rule, and every major religion contains some form of “Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself” in its tenets of faith.
The universality of the directive to treat others the way you yourself would want to be treated speaks to how fundamentally important it is. Personally, I believe that if you had never read the Koran, or weren’t familiar with the Ten Commandments, or had not attended a single day of Sunday school, you could live a pretty decent, moral life if you used the Golden Rule as your North Star.
But at the end of the day, I don’t really approve of public policy argued on the basis of religion. A secular argument –one that provides evidence, or that is demonstrably reasonable, thoughtful and ethical – should be the foundation upon which all of our laws and federal programs are based. We are not a theocracy. Governance is not grounded in religious dogma, which is why Americans aren’t required to cover their hair in public, or attend services every Saturday or Sunday, or abstain from eating meat on Fridays at particular times of the year.
So rather than obeying a biblical edict to follow the law, which in turn justifies the need to separate undocumented children from their parents at the border, Americans can look into their own hearts and endorse better methods to keep drug smugglers, human traffickers and gang members from entering the country.
Unfortunately, the current policy implemented by Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security is less a way to keep criminals out of the country than one whose intention is to deter anyone from asking for asylum – a growing problem created by social and economic conditions in Central America. It might even be a way to leverage funding for building a wall on the Mexican border. Therefore, it probably won’t be rescinded on moral or ethical grounds. But for the life of me, I can’t imagine a more pressing moral imperative than preserving the relationship between a parent and his or her own child, and I don’t need any religious text to buttress that claim. It’s just too painfully obvious.