I have a new hero.
His name is Clay Jenkins. He is County Judge for Dallas County, Texas. Biggest city in that county is, as one might imagine, Dallas, the ninth largest city in the US. The County Judge is the most important elected official in the county. In addition to his responsibilities as a Judge, he’s also the guy who is responsible for coordinating relief efforts in the county with the federal Department of Homeland Security.
He’s an active Methodist. He’s the first person in his family to ever graduate from college. Has a law degree from Baylor. And he and his wife have one child, a daughter.
And Clay Jenkins also volunteered his county to house and care for some of that flood of unaccompanied minor children coming into our country (illegally, a lot of them, not that that matters), from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador.
He volunteered. He contacted the feds on this; he stepped up. Said his 8-year old daughter saw a news story about the crisis, and asked if she meet them; said she thought it would be fun to play with those children.
Clay Jenkins was featured on Rachel Maddow’s show yesterday, and of course, she asked him about the politics of this. He said ‘the politics of this is that there are no politics of this. These are children.’ He said he expected some backlash, but that he’d gone door to door and talked to people in the county. They supported it. He talked to his pastor; talked to the local Baptist minister, the local Catholic priest. Unanimous agreement; these were children, and they needed food and shelter and kindness; bring ’em in.
Of course, it would be great if we could see this situation as Clay Jenkins sees it, in purely humanitarian terms. But with thousands of desperate children, some with parents, many without, having made the dangerous journey from their home countries to escape violence, anarchy, the breakdown of civil society, with thousands of kids here, in internment camps and rough shelters along our borders, in Texas and California and Arizona, the issue has become more politicized than ever.
Sunday, and then again yesterday, I watched, switching channels from ABC News to CBS to CNN to MSNBC, and we saw the flashpoints, in Murrieta California. Flag waving protesters shouting ‘go back,’ and uglier slurs as buses full of children arrived for processing. Immigration officials finally giving up, diverting the buses elsewhere, trying to avoid subjecting these poor kids to more violence. Above all, I saw the faces of the protesters, red-faced white folks (almost entirely), faces distorted in rage. We’ve seen those same faces, haven’t we? Back when I was a kid, just getting into watching news shows, a youthful news junky even then, watching footage from Birmingham and Selma, faces spewing hate as James Meredith tried to enroll in the college of his choice, as Dr. King talked about a dream. Not the same people, but the same faces. Enraged white folk, fearful of change, fearful of loss, fearful for their jobs in a tough economy, finding a single focus for all that fear. And the faces of children, looking out bus windows, wondering when they could ever be safe again.
The politics of this are getting ugly. And the cowardice of elected officials remains permanently on display. I could care less about the legalities of the case; there are 50,000 kids here or arriving, with more on the way. 50, 60, 70 thousand: I don’t care. They’re fleeing violence; they’re afraid for their lives. Just as, during the Cold War, the United States welcomed Eastern Europeans who climbed The Wall, or burrowed under a fence or forged a passport, broke the law to escape tyranny, and we welcomed them with open arms, made exceptions for them, so should we do the same for these children and for their families. Let ’em in. All of them in; let ’em work here and live here and get an American education. We’re a huge country and a rich country and we can do this and we should do this.
On this issue, at least, John Boehner has revealed himself as the greatest moral coward in the history of the Speakership. President Obama’s not far behind him, frankly. As these kids are ‘processed,’ many will be sent back, to disintegrating civil societies, to again fear, daily, for their lives. It’s reprehensible and it’s wrong. Let them stay. All of them; let them all stay.
This is a minor consideration, but worth mentioning; American undocumented workers are a net plus for our economy by every possible measure, according to every non-partisan study that’s been done. They have a higher rate of entrepreneurship than most Americans generally. They have far lower crime rates than the populace at large. They’re a great blessing to our nation, and they create more jobs than they perform, and their money circulates just the same as mine does.
Another minor consideration: yeah, they’re here illegally. They broke the law to come in, some of them. It doesn’t matter. The law they broke is a misdemeanor; the equivalent of a lane change traffic violation. The buzz-word politically is amnesty, so let’s shout that too: we’re in favor of amnesty! Amnesty now, amnesty tomorrow, amnesty forever! If I were a poor guy living in a poor country with a rich country next door, and if, to feed my family, all I had to do is disobey a law (a minor law, to boot, an unimportant law) and also risk a dangerous border, just to get work, just to feed my wife and children, I would do it in a second, and so would you. And anyone who says they wouldn’t isn’t telling you the truth.
And in this case, with what’s going on now, we’re talking about countries that do not border the United States, countries where parents are terrified that violence will touch their children. I saw the footage: fifty kids, the youngest a two-year-old, covered with a blanket and tied to the roof of a train heading to America. How desperate would you have to be, how frightened for your kids, how much of a last resort would that be? And we’re seriously thinking of sending them back? Are you kidding me?
Also this: their countries are disintegrating largely because of the inherent violence and instability of any product that is a) really lucrative, b) pretty easy to grow, and c) seriously illegal. To anyone who wants to shout from the rooftops that these kids (and other undocumented folks), are here ILLEGALLY! THEY BROKE THE LAW!!!! I would suggest this: their countries, Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador are imploding, because America’s dentists and accountants and hedge fund managers and executive vice-Presidents and insurance adjusters and corporate attorneys can’t lay off the nose-candy. Because some super poor countries have one insanely profitable cash crop, a market for which exists here, not there. Lady Coke. Also, we have gun dealers who see an equally lucrative market heading back the other way. So, yeah, they’ve formed gangs (small businesses), and cartels (big corporations), and they’re really seriously fighting for market share.
So at least, if we’re Christians, if we profess to be Christians in a Christian nation, let’s treat the collateral damage of that reality with some humanity. Clay Jenkins sees it. The politics of this is that there are no politics. Just children, who need our help.