History has a way of repeating itself.
Two hundred years ago, white conservative Americans – while allegedly championing traditional family values – shamelessly devastated the families of people of color. Black fathers were systematically separated from their families, sold to plantation owners far away. Black children were stripped from their mothers, auctioned off as commodities. Whites justified this immoral behavior by defining black people as “property.” Hiding behind legalities, we perpetrated depravities. Though some whites saw the hypocrisy of this societal behavior, most whites – benefitting from the economic advantages of such a system – ignored the cruelties of slavery.
Sadly, this same hypocritical behavior is happening again. White conservative Americans – while allegedly championing traditional family values – are shamelessly devastating the families of people of color. Immigrant fathers are being systematically separated from their families, deported after working in America for years. Immigrant children are being stripped from their mothers, placed in foster care and even offered in adoption. Whites are justifying this immoral behavior by defining many immigrants as “illegals.” Hiding behind legalities, we are perpetrating depravities. Again, though some whites see the hypocrisy of this societal behavior, most whites – benefitting from the economic advantages of such a system – are ignoring the cruelties of deportation.
Make no mistake. History will one day be as critical of what we are doing today as we are of what the proponents of slavery did in their day. The arguments supporting mass deportation and family destruction will sound as false as those of the racist slave owners of the 1800s. Remember, the cruelties of slavery were all done under the cloak of legality. Agents of the government tracked down and arrested any slave who violated the system. Those who gave sanctuary or protection to fleeing slaves could be prosecuted. Judges were bound by the law to act immorally. Government officials who found slavery abhorrent were pressured to support the national agenda. If this sounds strangely contemporary, it should.
More damning, history will once again question why many of the white people who recognized this immorality stood idly by, wringing their hands and posting memes, but largely allowing a great evil to go unchecked. There will incidents of white people who gave sanctuary to immigrant families, helping them avoid the authorities, but they will be rare. There will be stories of individuals and movements who resisted, but they will have been ineffective. Someday most Americans will be ashamed of this period of our history, wondering how it was possible that our nation elected a man who perpetrated such ugliness.
Make no mistake. The Republican Party is not the party of family values. If their support of Donald Trump and Roy Moore is not evidence enough, their behavior toward the families of people of color should be conclusive. Like the plantation owners of the 1800s, their commitment to family ends at their own door. Indeed, they are perfectly willing to benefit from the labor of people of color with no concern for the families of those laborers. They are happy to pit poor white families against poor families of color, but uninterested in addressing the common poverties and injustices that plague these families. Indeed, in truth, the Republican Party is anti-family, unless that family is part of the American aristocracy.
Ironically, it is this very American aristocracy that has most encouraged “illegal” immigration. They were the ones who wanted people of color to work cheaply in their homes as nannies, cooks and gardeners. They were the ones who required cheap labor for their harvests and factories. They have never really been against illegal immigration. They are opposed to immigrants gaining citizenship, power and civil rights. They support the deportation of immigrants precisely because they know they will be replaced by others with less power. They want immigrants who do not dream of citizenship. Separating them from their families is one way to discourage that dream.
Unfortunately, as in the days of slavery, ending policies of family destruction and the deportation of people of color is unlikely. Even under the Obama administration, our nation was committed to the economic exploitation of immigrant people. We sustained an economic system that needed their labor while ignoring their humanity and civil rights. While Obama’s administration was less strident in its attack on families and offered temporary support to the Dreamers, it was unwilling to dismantle the infrastructure that Trump is using today. As in the days of slavery, we are all complicit. As with the compromises around slavery, they tend to preserve the status quo.
Democrats are right to resist the demand from Republicans that any relief for the Dreamers must include an end to “chain” immigration. Don’t be confused. The term “chain” immigration is another hypocrisy. What conservatives call “chain” immigration is simply family reunification. This is what the party of family values is opposing. They are willing to allow people with certain skills to immigrate to America. They are willing to benefit from those people’s labor. They are even willing to allow them to become citizens and pay taxes in certain circumstances. They are unwilling to allow them to live with their own families.
Of course, this is not how white conservative Americans will frame this discussion. They will claim progressives want to throw open our borders and allow anyone to come to the United States. This is not true. What progressives demand is justice and compassion for those we have economically exploited. This was a valid demand in 1860 and it is equally compelling today. These people of color deserve our appreciation and consideration rather than our condemnation. Destroying the families of these people is merely evidence of the depths of our depravity.
Don’t be confused. This is not an issue of legality. Slavery was legal. Dividing families is legal. This is a question of morality. If you believe it is moral to arrest a man who has worked in our country for over 30 years, separate him from his wife and children and exile him to a land thousands of miles from them, you and I have nothing further to discuss. You are not just the enemy of people of color. You are my enemy.