PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — What Are You Doing?

“Don’t come here asking what you can do at the border to help. The work that must be done is where you came from.” So began Ruben Garcia, advocate for asylum seekers and the founder of Annunciation House, a place of refuge that houses those who have come to the El Paso, Texas, border seeking asylum.

He told our delegation, where many are from North Dakota,  that our presence here is because we have failed back home.  Challenging us, he wondered what we had done to stop the xenophobia and the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the presidential election. How did we allow a man to get elected who is fulfilling campaign promises to treat those seeking asylum like criminals and openly calling them subhuman words comparing them to vermin?

Garcia claimed that stopping President Trump is not a political imperative. This is not about politics or partisanship. It is a justice and moral imperative. This isn’t about the policies of the current administration. It goes deeper. What is happening is about human rights and our core values — about becoming a nation that finds it acceptable to treat human beings with a lack of dignity and a cruelty that has become enshrined in U.S. policies.

He said no one who is truly pro-life could support this administration. Its actions and policies are anti-life, supporting actions that seek to destroy precious children of God. Being pro-life means supporting those who are already born.

He went on to describe the lies that have been perpetrated by the U.S. government with regard to border policies. Things like denying that they were separating children or claiming treatment was not inhumane or lying to those seeking asylum that they can’t ask for asylum when they have a legal right to claim asylum in the U.S.

Garcia said we need to ask people if they think it is OK if politicians lie. For example, if the principal calls and tells you your child was caught lying in school, would you reply, “Well, in this day and age, lying is fine. I don’t have a problem with that. The president lies, so why can’t my kid” Bullying and lying are either right or wrong. If we think that it is wrong, we can’t support this administration and the lies with which they surround themselves.

He then described what happened with child separation, stories he heard from the refugees he housed — the same story repeated time and again by those he sheltered.

One father described what happened  to him. He and his 12-year-old  son were taken into a big room. Then his son was told to go into another room. He knew his son was being taken from him. The son refused to go, begging his father to stay. But his father told him he needed to do what the guard said. He told his so  that it would all be OK, knowing he was lying to his son. Then the father was told to face the wall so he wouldn’t have to watch his son being dragged away.

We were told that currently the Border Patrol is actively seeking to separate 17-year-old girls from their families, to drop them off at the bridge alone in Juarez, Mexico. There they are at risk of rape and assault or being trafficked or murdered The only reason they separate these girls from their parents is because it causes terror for the family, racked with fear at what will happen to their child.  Officers are ordered to do this simply because it is cruel and serves as a deterrent.

Garcia shared a story of how a room would be filled with 5- and 6-year-olds clinging to their parents legs, screaming and crying. He described how the Custom and Border Patrol agents grabbed the children by their shoulders, pried them away from their parents and dragged them across the floor kicking and screaming for their parents.

These Border Patrol officers didn’t sign up for this. They signed up to serve and protect the United States. They wanted to protect their country from terrorists and drug dealers. Pulling screaming children away from their parents was not In their job description. They are following the policies of a heartless, cruel and callous government.

So the question we were asked is what are we going to do to change U.S. policy. What are we going to do to change a regime that thinks this is morally acceptable.

I heard the challenge loud and clear. I can come and serve here but anything we do is a Band-Aid. Job One for anyone with a moral conscience is engaging with others to share what is happening and ask, “How is this OK? How can you live with this being the values of your country.”

It isn’t fake news. It has happened and it continues to happen. Get anyone who supports this administration to defend it and ask why, as a human being, they think this is acceptable. Because you promote what you permit.

The only reason this is happening is because we failed and elected a leader without  a moral conscience. We need to get people to put their vote where their values are. We can’t afford to fail again.

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