Trump’s immigration agents should disobey orders to tear families apart
Conservatives and liberals quickly agree (though for different reasons) that our current immigration system is badly broken.
There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrant workers and their families living in the United States. Sixty percent of them have been here for 10 years or more, and 3.6 million of them arrived here before their eighteenth birthday. (The average “Dreamer” was six years old when she or he was first brought to the United States.)
The current United States immigration system offers no reasonable, safe, easy, or fair path for these workers to obtain the documents they desperately need to continue working. For instance, a significant number of these undocumented workers—somewhere between 35 percent and 50 percent—at one time had viable work permits, but were forced to overstay their visas because our current regime does not recognize their brick and mortar value to the economy. Again, the system is broken, on both ends. Most everybody agrees. It needs to be fixed.
In the meantime, just how broken it is can be seen by the recent push to enforce the “letter of the law” of this broken system. Recent actions by the agents of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency puts a majority of these agents in the extremely immoral position of being ordered to break at least four of the Ten Commandments. Even more importantly (if that’s possible), it makes these U.S. agents vulnerable to being personally charged under international laws first established at Nuremberg.
Obviously, the Ten Commandments give us at least a basic hint of what moral and immoral action has meant to human beings over the past many millennia. Dr. Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, writes, “there are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run contrary to the proper nature of human beings. . . these are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. To dehumanize a fellow human being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain, that is wrong.”
So, what are the ICE agents doing wrong?
“Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother” is a cross-cultural moral injunction going back at least 3,000 years, with evidence of 5,000, even 10,000 years and more. Honoring the family structure recognizes these fundamental relationships as true, necessary and irreplaceable for human health and survival.
When ICE agents follow orders to remove children from their parents and place these children into warehouses, warehouses with cages, these agents are breaking a fundamental moral human law that goes back millennia. They could be, and should be, held accountable.
“Thou Shalt Not Steal.” Stealing children from their parents and stealing parents from their children must surely be recognized as one of the most horrific thefts possible. This is true even if some local warlord or bureaucratic regulation makes such child theft temporarily “legal” in that particular part of the jungle, that part of the world. Again, thou shalt not steal is a moral law that goes back millennia. When ancient kings wanted to torture their enemies, they stole their children.
“Thou Shalt Not Lie (Bear False Witness.).” When ICE agents tell the parents and the children, as they do, that this is only a temporary condition and that it will be over soon, they know—and the parents know—that this is a lie. Being “ordered” to lie does not change a lie into a truth. The agents are lying, and they know they are lying. Because of the backlog caused by recent crackdowns, undocumented workers arrested in the U.S. are now held for weeks, months, even years. “It will be over soon” is a lie.
“Thou Shalt Not Kill.” We don’t know how many physical deaths are caused directly by ICE Agents “following orders,” since such statistics are not kept, or at least made public. We do know that high-speed chases, dangerous terrain and inhumane smuggling tactics have led to thousands of immigrant deaths. Can ICE agents be held directly responsible for this? Hardly, and yet they are part of a system—following orders in a system—which does lead directly to such human suffering.
And certainly their actions have led to the “deaths” of the dreams and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of people. Jesus said, “If you just think of committing this sin, you are doing it.” His understanding was that inflicting mental “death” should be seen as real as physical actions leading to death.
“Do not Put Any Other Gods in Place of Me.” ICE agents are required to put the ICE system, procedures, rules and behavior ahead of—in place of—their own inner moral compass. There may be a few—a very rare few—ICE agents who experience a perverted personal pleasure at the wailing of children and pleading of parents as they “follow orders” to enforce the regulations of the broken immigration system. But we have to assume, just because we know the ICE agents are human, that most of these agents feel deep angst and sorrow as the results of being forced to follow such orders.
And this brings us to the Nuremburg Trials—those trials which were held at the end of World War II to judge those who had been participants in the horrors of both mass incarceration and mass extermination. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Laureate who helped bring down the Soviet Regime by documenting the horrors of the Gulag, considered the Nuremburg Trials as one of the highest expressions of human moral evolution.
“Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.”
It was at the Nuremburg Trials that the international standard was established: “Following orders is not an excuse for committing immoral actions.” Even more importantly, it established that there are in fact immoral actions that we, as human beings, in every part of the globe, recognize as being, indeed, truly immoral.
What ICE agents are currently doing with our broken immigration system is wrong. They know it, when they go home to their families at night. We know it, when we read about it online and in our daily newspapers.
What can we do about it? Speak out, like we are doing here in this essay (please share). And let all of our ICE agents know we support them when they refuse to follow immoral orders.
Conservatives and liberals can agree: We don’t want another cause for Nuremberg Trials, here after the current administration has ceased to rule. The immigration system we now have is broken, does not work. Let’s not make a false god of this broken system.
- Time: Here are the facts about President Trump’s family separation policy.
- The New Yorker: The government has no plan for reuniting the immigrant families it is tearing apart.
- What Oprah Winfrey thinks about tearing babies from parents.
- Huffington Post: “Trump has repeatedly lied about his administration’s role in family separations at the border.”