In a few days we’ll be out waving flags, grilling burgers and hotdogs, and watching fireworks to celebrate our independence. In the 1600 and 1700s European countries, especially England, launched hundreds of ships full of immigrants who eventually established what became the United States of America. By the mid-1700s those immigrants concluded the oppression from the British Empire was intolerable. Patrick Henry’s cry, “Give me liberty or give me death,” resonated with enough people that we eventually did gain our independence from Mother England.
You’d think that experience would make us sympathetic to the plight of immigrants today. Desperate people today seek freedom from violent, oppressive and abusive situations in their home countries. Unless we descend from Native Americans or Africans brought here against their will on slave ships, most of us carry within us the DNA of immigrants. Often our ancestors came because opportunities in their home countries dried up. Their best chance of any kind of a decent life lay elsewhere.
Ancestors on my mother’s side left England because they would be arrested and jailed for daring to object to the practices of the Church of England during the reign of King James. My grandparents on my father’s side left because there was no future for them in Germany in the late 1800s.
Thousands of years ago humans put walls around cities and established borders to define geographic regions. Clear borders make for good neighboring countries, though it isn’t always that obvious where one country ends and the other begins. People have been migrating from country to country for as long as there have been people.
Open and Closed Borders
Borders are neither good nor evil. It is how the border crossings are regulated that either create good relationships or conflicts and contention. Ideally, all borders would be open. Realistically, borders need to be regulated to protect people from invasion by those who would do them harm. Desperate people fleeing violence at home are not among those who are a threat. They are the threatened ones and that is often why they are migrating.
A border official who tears a terrified toddler away from people the child knows and trusts inflicts a catastrophic trauma on that child. It does not matter why the stranger took the child. Nor does it matter how kind the stranger is. The situation creates trauma the child may never overcome. We know from brain research that trauma in young children actually changes the way the child processes the world. We are literally creating future mental health problems by inflicting such trauma on small children.
Concern for the future of children experiencing such trauma is what drives the outrage about our government’s current zero tolerance policy regarding the immigrants approaching our borders in hopes of finding refuge.
Parents are trapped. If they stay in their home country they live in constant – realistic – fear gangs will snatch their children from them. Even if that does not happen, the chances their children can find adequate, ligitimate work are limited. So they migrate. They travel to a place they’ve been told all their lives is the land of liberty and justice – for all. They arrive only to encounter strangers who take their children from them.
Borders are human designations. From space borders are invisible; which is perhaps the way God views our global community. From space Earth is one beautiful blue and green planet, populated with people of many skin tones, languages, customs, and traditions.
Borders are good – arranging the current 7.6 Billion residents of Planet Earth into 195 countries. Countries oversee the collective needs of the citizens within each. When governments rule with justice and compassion things run fairly smoothly. When they do not, chaos and calamity soon take over. When that happens, people leave in search of a better place to live.
More Bridges, Fewer Barriers
I wonder if we aren’t too quick to put up barriers and too slow to build bridges. Every single person who is now a significant part of my life was once a stranger I had to get to know. The only exceptions are my two brothers.
Strangers are friends we haven’t yet gotten to know. If we talk long enough we’ll find out we have things in common. Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying; “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
As we celebrate our Independence from England, I hope we can also acknowledge the plight of so many today who are seeking their own independence from oppression. I hope we can make their arrival at our borders one of hope and encouragement for the future. I pray we will find ways to turn strangers into new friends.
Let freedom ring – everywhere, for all people.