By The Rabbi, Arthur Waskow
The night of Thursday, June 14, I took part in the coming–together of about a thousand people, jamming both sides of the street for a city block at the local ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) office in Philadelphia.
On barely 24 hours notice, all of them were protesting the actions of ICE to disrupt families on the southern US border, to traumatize distraught kids and parents. I’ve been to dozens of vigils, rallies, and whatnot in Philadelphia, and there were hundreds of people at this one whom I had never met. There were two hours of homemade signs, chants, songs, tears, many many very short speeches by people who came up from the crowd. I’ve never before seen people cry at such a gathering. (This sign, “You’ve got ICE Where Your Hearts Should Be,” was made and carried by Rabbi Phyllis Berman.)
People are outraged by what has been happening. It’s the highest level of outrage I’ve seen this whole 18 months. People can identify with what it’s like to have children ripped away from their families.
And the outrage comes from a very deep gut level. The “prime directive” for every species, including the human species, is to make sure the next generation thrives. The children. You can only rip children away from their families by dehumanizing the people you are facing. Down that path lies genocide.
There is a reason that one of the key moments in the story of Pharaoh is when he orders babies killed. And in the Christian story, when Herod orders children killed. That is the moment when a tyrant becomes a monstrosity.
All the atrocities we are facing, all the issues in the “Fusion Politics” of the “Call for a Moral Revival” put forward by the Poor Peoples Campaign, come to a head at this moment. The cruelty we are witnessing is being blatantly exposed as integral to racism & militarism.
It is like a blood poisoning that at least is hidden and then breaks through into the bright red streak of inflammation that signals extreme danger. And for the sake of traumatized children who, we now know, actually have their brain structures damaged by trauma, it is urgent to act.
1. The immediate end of all separations of families and the immediate admission to a probationary asylum of families from Honduras, El Salvador and other Central American countries that are under extreme pressure of violence, while their cases are investigated;
2. Immediate impeachment and removal of the head of ICE and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
This is what a true morality looks like:
Effective moral politics is always about knowing where the cutting edge is in which our side of the slice is much bigger than the other side of it. I think this is it. The Trumpist behavior is absolutely consistent, and I think they have gone too far.
Yesterday an organizer asked me: “What would you say to [ICE agents] if you could talk to them directly. Not the bosses, but the line workers. What would you say to them?”
Do you have children? Grandchildren? How would you feel if they were ripped away from you or from your kids if it’s grandchildren we are talking about and sent to a fenced–in jail? No contact with their parents, no information on what happened to them?
Who is feeding the baby who was literally yanked off his or her mother’s breast, nursing? Who is changing diapers, holding them when they cry? Could you bear it if you were the target, not the enforcer? Can you bear it if you are the enforcer? Could you read Exodus I: 15-22 (about Pharaoh’s order to kill children, and how a couple of women resisted.) Could you read Matthew 2:16 (about Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents)? Could you read Deuteronomy 23: 15-16 (about welcoming runaway slaves to live wherever they want in the land)? What could you personally do to stop it? Could you talk to your co-workers? Could you get five or six of them, along with you, to simply stop doing it?
Attorney General Sessions has just defended his actions by citing biblical passages that counsel obeying the law. But first of all, he and ICE have construed the law so as to prohibit asylum–seekers from making their case. He has invented the law that he then insists that refugees obey. Indeed, his behavior itself violates the law – the Treaty on Asylum and Refugees carved out after World War II and the experience of Jews who were denied asylum. And there is no law requiring ICE to rip children from their families.
For the Bible, laws imposed by an unjust and unaccountable government are not the standard for behavior. Isaiah (10:2) cried out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”
What is more, out of exactly that outlook, Jesus broke the law, nonviolently. That’s why he was crucified. Does that mean it’s OK for the United States to destroy the lives of children and parents because Rome crucified Jesus? Or does it mean exactly the opposite?
Moreover, if Mr. Sessions wants to quote the Bible, let us quote him this:
“You shall not hand over to their masters’ slaves who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them; you shall not maltreat him.” (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16)
We might call this to the attention of his down-home folks in Alabama and to his church in Washington DC And in letters to our Members of Congress and Senators and to the editors of our newspapers. And to sermons and discussions in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques. In talking with the workers at ICE offices all across America. We might – and we should.
For if the present government of the United States has chosen to become the Pharaohs of old and the Roman Caesars of old — tyrants, murderers, and monsters — then it is time for a Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.
Among national organizers of the protests are Families Belong Together https://www.facebook.com/pg/families belong.
And we do not need to wait for a national plan to respond to Pharaohs and Caesars on our own. ICE exists everywhere. And so do we.
We can keep doing this work for justice, compassion, and healing only with your support.