Imagine for a moment that you’re standing on the border between the United States and Mexico when a car crashes into a group of US and Mexican children who are also standing on that border. The children are thrown on both sides of the border. Some US children lay injured on the Mexican side. Some Mexican children lay moaning on the US side.
What do you – as a US citizen – do?
Do you only care for the US children who lie injured on the US side of the border? Do you ignore the needs of Mexican children on our side of the border? Or – ignoring the border – do you rush from child to child asking them where they were born and only responding to those who identify as US citizens?
Of course not.
In the case of this scenario, the proper response is to care for all of the injured children, regardless of their nationality or location. The only legitimate qualifier would be to prioritize those most seriously injured. Any person who responded in any of the above ways would be reviled by both Mexicans and US citizens. How could anyone be so heartless and bigoted?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to alter our opinion about right and wrong on the border. Re-imagine the scene with yourself standing on the US side of the border when a car crashes into a group of Mexican children a hundred feet away on their side of the border.
What do you – as a US citizen – do?
Do you rush across the border to assist? Do you call an ambulance to take the injured Mexican children to the closest hospital? Or do you passively watch from across the border? Do you abdicate any responsibility?
How is it possible that the proper response to the injury of children can so radically change by relocating the site of the injury a hundred feet?
How can the imaginary line we call a national border have such power that it completely alters our ethics and diminishes our compassion?
Yet it does.
Indeed, in my experience, the farther away from the border we place the accident and injury, the less concern US citizens express. In talking with US citizens about my work in Central America, I am troubled by how often people say, “We need to take care of our people first.” They say this without the least hint of shame, as if that makes perfect sense. They’d be shocked if I called them immoral.
Yet that is what they are.
Imagine what you would think of them if, when that car crashed into that group of Mexican and US children, they responded to your call to assist a seriously injured Mexican child by saying, “We need to take care of our children first?”
Standing on the border, nearly all people – conservative or progressive – would find such a statement appalling.
Because the closer you are to that imaginary line we call our national border, the clearer its absurdity becomes.
People looking across the border at each other quickly recognize they are standing under the same sun, breathing the same air, hearing the same song birds, experiencing the same desires and sharing the same dreams. When face to face, empathy and morality know no border. An imaginary line has no power to lessen the impact of seeing someone injured or in need.
This is why we’re building a wall.
A wall makes that imaginary line we call the border seem more concrete. It makes the absurd slightly less ridiculous. It hides our view from what is happening on the other side. It keeps Mexican and US children from standing together. It lessens the necessity of responding to serious injury. It makes the most heartless of responses seem common sense.
Walls make it easier not only to ignore injury, but to inflict it. They allow us to justify caging children, separating them from their parents, criminalizing their desperation and deporting them back into danger.
Most sadly, walls make it harder for us to imagine a world where what really matters is no longer a person’s nationality or location, but the severity of their injury and need.
Walls protect us, but not from what we think.
They protect us from the realization that any line we can imagine can be imagined differently.