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Nowhere do I hear more confusion—amid what David Brooks calls “a rapid, dirty river of information coursing through us all day”—than when Christians have conversations about immigration, perhaps the central issue of the Trump presidency.
Is there a crisis at the border? Do we need the military to settle it? How many minors have been separated from parents? Are they part of “a big fat con job,” as President Donald Trump says?
My colleague Sophia Lee has been crossing the border—nine times since January—in a painstaking and sometimes risky effort to report the complex realities of border security, humanitarian crisis, and legal logjam. I and other colleagues have been reporting on overseas plights—like the persecution of Yazidis in Iraq and stranded Christians from Iran—in an effort also to better understand the global migration crisis.
For, you see, the problem actually is much bigger than President Trump is letting on. About 60 million people are displaced in the world, and a recent Gallup poll found 15 percent of the world’s adult population—750 million people—would like to move to another country if they found the opportunity. The percentage is growing, despite recent clampdowns on migrants by American and European leaders. And the United States remains their destination of choice.
We have reached a point where leaders of both the right and the left boast in their coldheartedness toward the persecuted.
We live in a time of chaos and upheaval where prolonged conflict and failed states feed forced migration. A post–World War II order no longer holds sway; its leaders are fading. Meanwhile, victims of chaos almost anywhere in the world have access to information like never before, an ability to measure their miserable lot against those in the ordered world—or just one distant cousin who made it to Denmark. An uptick in arrivals at the U.S. southern border is one small bulge in a great wave of human movement.
Such a problem won’t be addressed by a wall, won’t be settled in Tijuana or McAllen, and won’t be fixed by Washington Post fact-checkers. The policy issues will come into focus only when we know how to think about migration, which begins by thinking about migrants, who are largely mothers and fathers with children and futures at stake.
To be serious, policy on so large a problem must be comprehensive—involving border states, overseas allies, countries in crisis, and nongovernmental organizations. To be wise, it must be grounded on some moral imperatives because its subjects, at the end of the day, are families in turmoil.
Policymakers need help here from Christians, whose story from Genesis to Revelation is one of forced exodus, wandering in the wilderness, and finding rest in strange lands. We may disagree on the particulars—a wall, which kind, a quota of how few or how many—but we should agree a warmhearted, compassionate approach is needed.
That’s precisely what’s missing as Trump and key members of his administration lurch from government shutdown to border showdown sprinkled liberally with outrageous presidential tweets (“Our Country is FULL!”). As White House policy adviser Stephen Miller responded, when asked about refugee protection for persecuted Christians, he “would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil.”
We have reached a point where leaders of both the right and the left boast in their coldheartedness toward the persecuted. With U.S. refugee admissions down overall by 72 percent from 2016, Christian refugee admissions also are plummeting. The United States took in 2,000 Christians fleeing Iran in 2016, and is on track to receive just 71 in 2019—a 97 percent decline. Once, American leaders saw it as strategic to take in the enemy of our sworn enemy.
I see Christians everywhere at work in the trenches of conflict and along the migratory routes, binding up wounds of war and looking for ways to rebuild shattered communities. Yet in America, many are far from speaking or acting prophetically, paralyzed perhaps by the political divide, intimidated by callous rhetoric when it should move them to resolve and action.