Last week, President Trump spoke in Minneapolis and his hot takeaway (or controversy) was about his immigration policy. The very TL;DR version was that Trump boasted about his executive action that “no refuges will be resettled in any city or any state without the express written consent of that city or that state.”
Tune in to the political commentary on the issue and you’ll hear that which has become commonplace: Trump’s policies are racist and they marginalize people of color. Trump’s policies are good and put American families first. You don’t hear many thoughts in between these two ends of the spectrum.
A few days ago, a friend mentioned that she’s surprised more of her friends – specifically Christian friends – didn’t speak out against the parts of Trump’s speech regarding immigration. She’s right; outside of either not knowing about the speech or believing that political social media posts are fruitless, there wasn’t a lot of talk about this one. But why was the issue controversial? Taken at face value, I can see how the executive order makes sense. Don’t states and cities know better than the federal government how many refugees they can take in? Aren’t state’s right a good thing? This isn’t racism; it’s common sense! – cries the conservative.
This is a great example of how even good policy can be bad with the wrong motivations, and why I believe it’s hard for other’s to see Trump’s racist tendencies. Watch the short 90-second video (link below) that contains a small section of his speech. Notice the way he says “refugees” and “Somalia”. Listen closely to the boos in the background. Hear how he implies that a specific ethnic group has been a drain on Minnesota. It is clear that he is speaking of Somalians with contempt.
One might argue that he is not speaking of the specific ethnic group with contempt. After all, any sizable refugee group from any nation has the potential to be a drain. Or perhaps, one might say that he’s more criticizing the federal government for their mishandling of refugee resettlement. While these arguments *might* hold weight, imagine being a Somalian refugee and hearing his words, his tone, and the subsequent boos. I imagine I would not feel very wanted nor welcome here. Even if you don’t believe that Trump’s message here was racist, it’s hard to deny that he is using the language of us vs. them. We are the good guys who need to be protected from the bad guys who are a drain on our community.
To put it in religious terms, such vitriolic, self-centered, us vs. them rhetoric is against the core of the Christian faith and must be rejected – even if you believe the policy makes sense. Or, to put it in non-religious terms, the ends don’t justify the means.
I’m not saying that tighter, more responsible immigration policy is necessarily a bad thing, but we need to look at our motivations for why we want it. For me, I lean towards believing that arguably moral issues aren’t usually the best when they’re legislated. In other words, forcing someone to do the right thing in most situations doesn’t lead to a change of heart. So part of me likes the idea of not forcing refugees on cities and states.
But why can’t we encourage and inspire people to want refugees? Why can’t we make sensible rules for freedom’s sake, but at least try to instill a culture of openness and acceptance to the huddled masses yearning to be free? Imagine if President Trump, while still making such a policy said, “We want to leave it in the hands of the state, but as your nation’s leader, I encourage you to open up your heart and homes to these people.” What if he starting saying things like, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?”
According to Trump, the result of his policies are that refugee resettlement is down 85%. I would love to live in a country where even though we may have the freedom to choose whether or not we want refuges in our city, that we the people would choose them and that 85% figure would be non-existent. Being more others-oriented and less self-centered is done with the heart muscle. Just like any other muscle, it’s inconvenient to exercise. In the beginning, it makes you sore and drains your energy. But then it gets increasingly stronger. And then one day you find out, similar to those crazy lunks who love the gym, that being mindful of others is a joy.
But our president seems to want the opposite. Even though he wants to make laws that protect us, his rhetoric sets us up to be fearful and mistrustful of anyone outside our safe, warm bubbles. It is time for us to look past the shiny convenience of these policies and towards the purpose and heart behind them, and ask ourselves if this is who we really want to be.