My title here is a famous quote from Flannery O’Connor. What exactly did she mean by saying “Tenderness leads to the gas chamber”?
Was she citing the Nazis’ kindness to animals (Adolf Hitler was an anti-hunting vegetarian)? Or was she thinking of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, whose stories of overburdened poor mothers made the case for sterilizing them?
Just like Sanger, too many Americans in 2014 want to feel like really good, compassionate, people - without paying the price. We want cheap grace, easy miracles, and automatic progress.
And that explains why we don’t secure our country’s borders.
We want people to like us. To think that we’re “nice.” We want to feel nice, and to experience nice things - like comfort, safety, leisure, and that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from taking easy moral stances that get us applauded by our peers. We don’t want to brush up against real poverty or injustice, even if that is the price of fixing them.
[sharequote align="center"]We don’t want to brush up against poverty or injustice, even if that is the price of fixing them[/sharequote]
This lust for the nice explains why so many otherwise sensible Christians have gotten drunk with their own sheer goodness and “openness” on the subject of immigration.
Here are the facts: Americans have voted for certain immigration laws, which have been widely disregarded for many years. The Americans who benefited most were employers who use cheap labor, whose workers get hurt building houses, then get dropped off at the public emergency ward.
The citizens who suffered were embattled blue collar workers, honest business owners who pay fair wages to legal workers, and ordinary law-abiding taxpayers.
The amnesty granted in 1986 to a few million immigrants was supposed to march in lockstep with strict enforcement of workplace verification - but the cheap labor lobby protested, and President Ronald Reagan backed down. The result was a law that offered amnesty, but did nothing to prevent the ongoing exploitation of workers in the shadow economy, or create order on our borders.
Boys await medical appointments in a holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Nogales, Ariz. (AP/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)
What we need today is a rational, statesmanlike compromise, which combines a hardcore seriousness about enforcing our laws with some measure of mercy toward millions of people who already live among us. But that compromise has failed.
A year ago, many Americans would have been willing to support a “path to citizenship” - provided it was accompanied by real, honest, comprehensive efforts to make sure that another such amnesty would never be needed again. I angered many of my own conservative friends in 2012 by advocating a “path to citizenship,” conditioned on rock-solid enforcement of our labor laws and serious border security.
But liberal Democrats hungry for votes and cynical Republicans in hock to low-paying employers combined to kill such a compromise. Every measure for really guaranteeing our borders was stripped out or watered down, rendering the “path to citizenship” a lure to future migrants in the underground economy, just like the 1986 bill that so flagrantly failed - and attracted 11 million more people to join the ranks of the exploited.
What is worse, far worse, is the ripple effect that talk of “amnesty” without enforcement has had throughout our poorer neighbors. As Fox News reports:
“Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have flocked to the U.S. in recent months, believing the Dream Act, as well as a 2008 law that grants an asylum hearing to any child not from a border nation, and the White House policy known as ‘prosecutorial discretion’ means once they arrive, they’ll never have to go back.”
Newspapers, TV shows, and social media throughout Latin America are reporting the very same thing - effectively running ads for the ruthless “coyotes” (human traffickers) who promise to deliver children safely to America. In England, the Daily Mail has published appalling pictures of the victims of immigrant smugglers, who are getting rich on the rumor of an impending U.S. amnesty.
Residents of border states will tell you about the “rape trees,” full of panties torn from trafficked women who were brutalized and dumped in the desert. Even without the cartel-connected, heavily armed coyotes, travel through the desert can be deadly - as Gilberto Ramos learned.
As the Washington Post reports, that 15-year-old boy left Guatemala to come to America in search of work that could fund his mother’s treatment for epilepsy. He wore a white plastic rosary she gave him - which Gilberto was still wearing when authorities found his desiccated body.
Gilberto died so that Americans could feel good about themselves.
We want to be seen as the kind of people who selflessly “welcome the stranger.” We want to eat quesadillas and wield a few phrases in butchered Spanish, and sneer at the “xenophobes” who tell us about the rape trees. We want to enjoy the low, low prices made possible by cheap, unprotected labor - and we don’t want to hear about the price that other people will pay.
True grace, actual empathy, and genuine compassion are not fleeting emotions that flicker through our heads and stir our hearts, like a glimpse of porn. Instead they are firmly rooted in reality, in the truth. And the truth is that without political order, without the firm enforcement of democratic laws, what reigns instead is chaos. And chaos is the natural habitat for the human traffickers, rapists, drug smugglers and other exploiters of the helpless. Until we as a nation make the hard choices needed to impose a just order on the influx of immigrants, we are all responsible for the suffering that results.
A human rights activist and filmmaker, Jason Scott Jones is co-author of the upcoming "The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life."
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