If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. – Exodus 21:2-4
ABC News has a report out (from Nightline) about an illegal immigrant whose children were taken away because she was incarcerated on immigration charges (and apparently deported). The story is here: “Stolen Babies? Mother Loses Four Kids.”
Anytime you run into stories like this, be careful about the sensationalism that the well-meaning TV journalists bring. They need exciting stories and can embellish just a bit when needed, or leave details out. (Also, the text of the story and the accompanying video appear to be talking about two different cases, though they are in the same vein.) So, taking all of this story with a grain of salt, let’s consider what it says about immigration policy and the nation in which we live.
The basics: a mother is arrested on immigration charges because she’s here illegally; with no ability to provide for her children (she’s been incarcerated) they are remanded into the custody of the state; the kids then wind up in foster care or even adopted while the mother works through the court system and is possibly even deported. So much for the notion of “anchor babies” who have citizenship rights and can thus keep their parents from being deported.
This arrangement is tangentially similar to slavery in the old testament. There, slavery was in many cases a voluntary thing. You sold yourself into slavery (likely for financial reasons) and there was a fixed time frame – you’d be free after seven years. But, if you were given a wife during your time of slavery, and she had children, the children were not yours – they belonged to your master.
Similarly, when the federal courts determine that a person is here illegally and must be shipped home, they may in turn decide that the kids are better off here, without their parents, and are taken into custody. The problem of course is that this arrangement hints at slavery … which should be a little unsettling.
Let’s turn it around a bit, using the Golden Rule as our guide. Imagine yourself a destitute mother in an impoverished country. In an attempt to feed and clothe your children, you pack up your meager belongings, drag your kids across the US/Mexico border, and look for sweat-shop work that pays far better than anything you can get back home. It goes along for a while, with the children eating while you live in fear. Perhaps you even have more children along the way. One day your fears are realized. The immigration police find you, incarcerate you, take away your kids, and ship you home. They then throw the kids into foster care or even given them over to some American citizens for adoption.
Is that my country?
The system is a mess. It is a big mess. The changes necessary to straighten it out are massive, but we should still give them a look.
First, the government should not be in the practice of seizing children. I’m not saying that kids should make you exempt from immigration laws. Merely that if the actual punishment for the crime is deportation, you should at least be allowed to go of your own accord and take your kids with you.
As for immigration law, I have some serious concerns. I’m willing to recognize concern that allowing “just anybody” to come in freely could be dangerous. I’m not just talking about criminals – obviously we’d want to keep murderers, thieves, rapists and the like out. “At the border” is the place where we don’t need to offer presumption of innocence, which makes it easier to keep the dangerous folks at bay.
There is also a decent argument (often made by Thomas Sowell) that allowing different cultures in at random has some risks. In our days of multiculturalism, it is often held that “all cultures are equally valid” – but we aren’t looking for some esoteric definition of validity, we actually want success. It can be argued that folks are running from various countries because their cultural backgrounds have led to failure – and those cultures introduced into our country will bring the same result. I’m not saying that I’m hard over on this argument, but there is some rationale there. (It’s not unlike a problem we saw back in North Carolina when I was a kid. Folks were constantly retiring from the North to the South because of lower cost of living and lower crime. They would then turn around and vote just like they did before, for the exact same policies that brought them high cost of living and high crime in the first place.)
So I readily acknowledge the existence of reasonable arguments against fully open immigration. There are internal policy issues as well; policies that we could possibly change. For instance, I don’t support a “social safety net” for immigrants, particularly Social Security or Medicare. Now, I disagree with these programs anyway, so my anti-social-safety-net preference shouldn’t surprise anybody. (It’s not that I oppose safety nets, not at all. But I prefer voluntary participation, not forced participation.) We shouldn’t be running a free retirement village here, where if you can just get across the line you can retire in style with health benefits and a paycheck.
Of course, living on the backs of the public is not what most of these illegal immigrants want. They honestly just want a shot at something better. They want to work, pay the bills, feed and clothe the kids, and make a better life. They are exactly the kind of people we want to have in this country. Sure, they need some instruction in freedom, coming from a place where they have none. Still, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that we are putting up the stop sign on hard workers and coddling non-workers (and the wealthy for that matter) at every turn.
Conservatives have missed a grand opportunity to forge an alliance here. Just as Ron Paul could forge an alliance between conservatives and peaceniks with his position troop withdrawal, conservative leaders could easily put together a compromise with immigration reform advocates. Help us dismantle the forced social safety net, the modern enslavement “for the public good” and we will help you open the borders.
As for the parents who have lost their kids in the immigration flail, my heart goes out to you. (Honestly, the video showed one judge claiming that incarceration amounted to abandonment … the caveats about sensationalism still stand though.) These people have risked a great deal to come here, finding themselves outside of the law and with little recourse when they are abused. Justice demands better.
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. -Micah 6:8