The case for compassion at the border

Photo by Eric Gay

What would you do to protect your children? Would you speed or run a red light to get them away from danger?

If gangs were threatening to kill your 9-year-old son if he did not carry packages for them, would you move out of the neighborhood? Would you risk trespassing on someone else’s property to get to safety?

If you couldn’t take your family to safety yourself, would you pay someone to take them for you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be able to understand the motivations of some of the people coming across our southern border seeking asylum.

Standing in the detention centers in Weslaco, McAllen and Del Rio and at a shelter in Los Fresnos earlier this month, hearing the stories, seeing the faces and looking into the eyes of children and parents, I saw that hope is the driving force behind the current surge of families and unaccompanied minors crossing our border, who represent about half of the immigrants detained by the U.S. Border Patrol in South Texas.

While illegal border-crossers often attempt to avoid detection, these people are looking for and surrendering to Border Patrol agents. The population is also different. About 80 percent of those being detained are from countries other than Mexico. According to officials and staff I met at these facilities, many are attempting to escape depredations and sexual assault in other Central American countries.

After touring these facilities, I thank God that my children were not among those I saw. I’m grateful that I haven’t had to make a choice between violating a law and protecting my children. But if I had, what would I want for my children under these circumstances?

Certainly, our dysfunctional immigration system is overwhelmed and needs to be fixed, but is there not a place for mercy? We’ve sent thousands of troops and billions of dollars to help in humanitarian crises halfway around the world. Is this not a more appropriate venue? Thankfully, our rules of law and order, despite their inadequacies, include a place for mercy.

While charity is an individual, family and church responsibility, justice and mercy are civil responsibilities. Determining whether or not a credible case for asylum exists is a proper role for our federal government. And if there is a valid case for asylum, legal status should be established for those asylees who have relatives, friends or charities ready to voluntarily take custody of the children or provide assistance and a place for the families to settle.

I’m glad people still want to come to our country — not only in hope of opportunity but also in hope of safety from injustice. The Pilgrims did.

Should we not welcome those seeking asylum today? They may not be those we would invite: They may speak a different language or have a different religion. But they’re here in our yard asking for mercy. We have done so in the past, as with several hundred thousand of the “boat people” from Vietnam.

At the same time, for this policy to be sustainable, we must control our borders to protect life, liberty and property within the United States. And we must both reduce the welfare state and reform our immigration laws so that legal entry can be facilitated and expanded through defined, understandable and reasonable means. Amnesty and uncontrolled borders will not benefit our country or, in the end, even those immigrants who wish to come. If we allow a blatant and persistent disregard of our laws to become the norm, our nation will become no better than the ones from which the immigrants are fleeing. We must remember that the rights and privileges that allow us to prosper and live securely are the same ones that draw others to us. People who just want a safe place to work and raise their families are not a threat to our nation. They are an asset.

How we treat these asylum seekers will reveal to a great degree how secure and beautiful America really is.

David Simpson

Former state representative