The Molina-Torres family talk to their relatives through the U.S.–Mexico border fence Playas de Tijuana, in northwestern Mexico, 2016 ( Guillermo Arias/AFP-Getty Images)

We Must Stop the Madness

A just and respectful approach to immigration will become even more critical as the climate warms and the seas rise.

At the smoldering core of Donald Trump’s presidency lies the radical notion that we are not, as American people, who we say we are―a nation of immigrants united in our mission to build a just and equitable society.

Since April, President Trump has boasted that the United States has “zero tolerance” for families who flee their homes to escape the threat of violence or the hopelessness of destitution and come to our country seeking asylum and opportunity. Tolerance, though, is precisely what’s called for in providing aid for people desperate enough to risk their lives and those of their children to come to America in the expectation that we’ll respect their most basic human rights.

What we should never tolerate is our own government yanking children from the arms of their parents and hustling them off to border shelters, foster homes, or social service agencies. They have no assurance they’ll ever see their families again; there is only the certainty that traumatic separations can scar children and their parents for life.

We have zero tolerance for that.

Three-fourths of Americans, in fact, rightly perceive immigration as beneficial to our country; just 19 percent think it’s a problem, despite what some are calling a politically driven White House campaign to foment fear and resentment of immigrants. For all the noise and bombast coming from the administration, the fact is that apprehensions―the standard gauge of the rate of undocumented crossings―at the U.S.‒Mexico border are down more than 80 percent since 2000 to their lowest level in nearly five decades.

Division and rancor never moved us forward, as Mexican-American civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta so eloquently warns. “We can’t let people drive wedges between us,” she reminds us, “because there’s only one human race.”

That cautionary truth will only gather resonance in the years to come. As climate change continues to wreak havoc across Central America and around the world, we need to recognize that rising seas, blistering heat, widening deserts, and other climate ills will force more and more people from their homes worldwide. A just, humane, and respectful approach to immigration will become ever more essential.

We all want safe and secure borders. We can achieve that, though, in a way that honors our history as a nation of immigrants, recognizes how new arrivals strengthen and enrich us each day, and embodies the values we share. We can, and we must.

From its birth, this country has taken in people of every nation, culture, language, and faith. Many came in search of sanctuary. Some sought opportunity and hope. Still others were brought here against their will in the Atlantic slave trade, the largest forced migration in history. Together we’ve forged a single nation, fortified by its diversity, that proudly bears the motto E Pluribus Unum: “Out of many, one.”

In an age when nations rise or fall on their ability to connect and interact across distance and borders, we are strengthened beyond measure by those who come here from afar. Our capacity to attract their varied ambitions, harness their talents, and unleash their dreams is part of the great self-renewing miracle of America, a strategic advantage no rival can touch.

More than all that, more than anything else, the humane treatment of immigrants rests near the heart of who we are as American people, embedded in our history and enshrined in our common beliefs. This country wasn’t founded on borders, ethnicity, or language. It didn’t spring from old habits and fears. It was born from an idea that grew into a guiding conviction, that all of us are created equal and deserve the opportunity to succeed in a society where justice prevails and the people reign.

Those aren’t mere suggestions. They’re more than fair-weather goals. Those are the bedrock foundational aspirations that define the purpose and light the promise of America, no less today than at our inception.

We’ve yet to make good on that promise. We’re still falling short of those goals. But it is in standing up for our ideals and living out our purpose, especially in the face of challenge, that we become the people we say we are, the nation we pledge our allegiance to, and all we hope and pray to be.

“Our nation is mourning. Our nation is crying out to save our little children,” Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, said in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives last week, calling out for congressional action to end the disgraceful practice of cleaving children as young as nine months old from their parents’ arms. “History will not be kind to us as a nation and as a people if we continue to go down this road,” said Lewis, the iconic civil rights leader whom many regard as the conscience of the Congress. “We must stop the madness and stop it now.”

There is no issue on our borders than can ever be resolved by stirring a tempest in the American spirit, by turning our backs on who we are and what we believe, by walking away from our charge, as a nation, to grant assurance to the oppressed and asylum to those in danger when and where we are able.

Donald Trump claims we’re not who we say we are. We must show, by our actions, how very wrong he is. We must show, by our deeds, who we are.