Last fall the Edgefield Advertiser ran an OpEd about Refugees and Immigrants, and this week the issue has again made national news. Now as it was then, it is easy to say, “That doesn’t affect me. I’m just going to ignore it.” That would be wrong, in several senses. It would be incorrect, even here in Edgefield County; and it would be unethical, since each of us has the responsibility to help to preserve the core values of our nation.
This past week I attended a national educational meeting in Washington, DC, and had the opportunity to visit again at the U. S. Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis. I cherish my time there at the start of a 30-year Navy career, and many whom I met there remain my friends to this day. These include one who retired after serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bush and then the Obama administrations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Admiral Mullen wrote an OpEd of his own last September, published in the New York Times. The subject was this: “The Wrong Time to Cut Back on Refugees.” In it, Admiral Mullen stated a theme that I suspect all of us picked up in Annapolis and afterward, that our nation “didn’t become a resettlement leader out of pure altruism. By welcoming refugees, the United States revitalizes its democracy and its economy, helps preserve or restore stability in volatile regions of the world, and builds respect. In slashing resettlement,” Admiral Mullen continued, President Trump “is taking a recklessly narrow view of how best to put America first. Shutting out refugees would not only increase human suffering; it would also weaken the country and undermine its foreign policy.” Immigrants formed our national, state, and community identity when they became Americans – not only our immigrant and enslaved ancestors who arrived here centuries ago, but also our predominantly Hispanic new neighbors working in the agricultural sector in Edgefield County. The treatment of new and prospective immigrants and asylum seekers affects us all.
This week’s news about the administration’s actions purposefully separating children from their mothers seeking asylum at our southern border says a lot about the Trump administration. Many churches including my own national Episcopal church have condemned this policy. The administration insists their actions comply with laws that have been on the books for a decade – laws which set a maximum which the government can do, but which don’t require such actions. The presumption is that the administration cannot be faulted with taking actions which they are allowed but not required to do; the problem is that the law allows them to do it. The solution, they say, is to modify the law to disallow this governmental action, but they will not support such modification unless it also (among other things) includes funding for a border wall. That what we are doing now is horribly wrong seems to be beside the point; they say that they will not stop doing what even the administration agrees is wrong unless some other action is taken that Congress has rejected previously. Such a stance may be designed as part of “The Art of the Deal” with Congress, but only at the price of holding our nation’s ethics hostage along with those innocent children and their heartbroken mothers at the border.
The conclusion remains the same as it was last fall, in that earlier OpEd. More and more Americans are realizing that shutting out refugees and separating children from parents who desperately need our help, is not the way to “Make America Great Again.” We need to listen to people like Admiral Mike Mullen, and to insist that our elected representatives in Washington do the same.