Someone call Child Protective Services. Currently over 2000 abused children wait in detention centers at the U.S/Mexico border after separation from their parents who crossed the border illegally. Earlier this year the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) started dividing families caught crossing the border without papers based on a “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. Even breastfeeding infants got snatched from their mothers. As a pediatric healthcare worker I can attest to the fear and anxiety that wells up in a young child detached from a parent even for a few moments to obtain x-rays.
The White House (after much uproar) has recently reversed the decision on this violation of basic human rights. But over 2000 children still remain disconnected from their parents. Not only does this emotionally traumatize children, but the parting opens them up for potential sexual and physical abuse at these detention centers without the protection of their parents. Even if Christians did not make the decisions here, many evangelicals stood behind the decisions. The issues surrounding illegal immigration have no easy answers. But if we call ourselves God-fearing Christians, should we not handle the issue of illegal immigration in a compassionate love-thy-neighbor-as-yourself manner?
Granted, one should not cross a national border illegally. But an illegal act does not cancel the biblical mandate to love—even one of the least of these—our poor and needy foreign neighbors. And why punish children for their parents’ actions? Besides, how many of these immigrants cross the border illegally out of rebellion? Most do it out of an act of desperation to give their families hope for a better life that includes public sanitation, and the lack of drug lord gang violence on school busses. You know—the things Americans take for granted.
But Romans 13:1-7—yeah…about that. The Apostle Paul wrote Romans specifically to first century largely gentile Christians in the AD 50’s. Paul seems to have written these verses in the hopes of preventing a revolution amongst the Jewish Christians that could have destroyed unity in the early church. Bottom line: Paul wrote this epistle for a specific audience at a specific time and place in history. He did not write the epistle to present day Americans. Incidentally, pro-slavery advocates in the 1800’s used Romans 13 for similar justification. Hmmm. And how interesting that they hone in on the first seven verses of Romans 13, but fail to acknowledge the three verses immediately following where Paul restates Jesus’s commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. (Rom. 13:8-10.) The gross misinterpretation of Romans 13 acts as another example of evangelicals (mis)using the Bible as an excuse to act like jerks. Herein lies the problem with out-of-context superficial reading of Bible verses. Evangelicals who rationalized the “zero tolerance” policy should not look to the Bible for support unless they see the Bible as an a la carte lunch menu. But since we’re out in the Bible orchard cherry picking verses, let’s add these juicy morsels: Matthew 25:31-46; Isaiah 10; Leviticus 19:33-34.
So if we can’t look to the Bible as grounds for separating children from their parents, how about the Bible’s archenemy—Science?
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that separating a child from parents can cause “irreparable harm” to children. In addition, American medical professionals and psychotherapists find this practice “profoundly harmful to children and to families…” and fear the lasting negative health impact on children. The emotional trauma from these forced separations can lead to disruptions in neurodevelopment, and the ensuing toxic stress from such separation causes an increased incidence of conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Other long term effects can include lower academic achievement and attachment difficulties into adulthood. Some experts even say that splitting up families carries similar emotional and mental consequences as being beaten and tortured.
As a psychotherapist who treats adults who have endured childhood trauma, my husband can foresee these potential lasting effects on the psyche of these children. Traumatic physical, mental, and/or emotional events that take place in the critical period from birth to six years in a child’s life can have permanent repercussions.
The 70’s “Keep America Beautiful” ad campaign would often interrupt my childhood television viewing. I still remember one particular commercial where the middle aged man with long braided hair canoed through a body of water littered with trash, only to find even more garbage ashore. The commercials would always end showing the Native American with a tear rolling down his cheek as he sat overlooking his polluted homeland. As I reflect upon those old commercials, I picture a dark-bearded tunic-and-sandals wearing man looking upon North America with a tear rolling down his cheek, watching as ICE seized parents away for imprisonment as their children watched in horror. So much for America made great again. This image stands in contrast to the biblical description of Jesus’s attitude toward children (Matt. 18:1-5).
Maybe we’re too caught up in our own nationalism to love aliens and foreigners. Psst…Hey, American Nationalists. When you get a moment you may want to read Revelation 7:9-17. Warning: it may make you clutch your American flag like a teddy bear as you cry yourself to sleep tonight.
God commands us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But only if we feel like it.