When Did America Become so Mean?

When did Americans become so mean? No, really; when children appear at our borders, and many of our politicians treat them like a swarm of locusts, it’s time to ask that question. Is that how we want to be known?

Since October 2012, approximately 52,000 children have arrived at our borders without “proper paperwork.” Like the ancestors of most Americans, including the ancestors of Republicans, they were living in hellish conditions, and wanted to come here to be free. Whereas the bulk of children stopped at our southern borders used to be from Mexico, during the recent influx only about a quarter are from Mexico, with three-quarters of them coming from drug cartel-controlled areas of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which means it is likely that the children are coming from extreme poverty and violence. It’s a sad situation with no good outcome; we used to be a “Can Do” country, and we used to consider situations like these as opportunities to show the rest of the world what we’re made of. But for some reason, the “Can’t Do” Republicans control Congress, and they’ve decided to panic. Panic is not too strong a word. Fox News’ web site features the following headline:

Endless wave of illegal immigrants floods Rio Grande valley

“Endless wave?” About 52,000  kids cross the border over the course of about 21 months. In no way is that an “endless wave.” We’re about to enter football season; more people than that will attend eacn game this season; we seem able to handle that. But brown kids on the border? Perish the thought.

A lot of Republicans have thrown their two cents into the fray on this “issue,” and their rhetoric has been nothing short of disgusting. For example, Caribou Barbie (Sarah Palin) called for Obama’s impeachment over this situation, saying,

“Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘no mas.’”

That was cute, the way she just threw in some Spanish at the end, isn’t it? But really; since when does a blip of fewer than 3,000 children per month for 21 months constitute an “unsecured border crisis”? In fact, doesn’t the fact that they’re in custody indicate that the border is not, in fact, “unsecured”? And how is that “abuse” on the part of the president? Is it possible for a Republican to discuss a problem without turn it into a major crisis and blaming it on President Obama? Take Laura Ingraham. Please. Earlier this week, she was subbing on Bill O’Reilly’s crapfest, when she said the following:

“OK, first thing you do is start deporting people — not by the hundreds, not by the dozens. By the thousands. And that means entire families. Not just a father, a mother. But we keep families unified by deporting all people who are are here illegally, that’s number one…Number two, we have to stop visas and stop foreign aid to countries who will not repatriate the citizens of those countries that left and came to our country illegally…Number three, I think there has to be an end to this thing called birthright citizenship. Some people call it anchor babies.”

If the US had taken that attitude when her ancestors came here, Ingraham wouldn’t be free to express her dreadful opinions. Just send them all back? First thing to note is that she’s essentially demanding that Obama ignore the law. An anti-trafficking statute passed in 2008 says that minors from Central America must be given a hearing and cannot be deported immediately. But really, this is a humanitarian situation, anyway. Many on the far right don’t understand this concept, but being in the United States without documentation is not criminal, it’s civil. It’s the main reason most of us object to the term “illegal alien.” People can’t be “illegal.” If these kids are here because of repressive conditions where they came from, they are refugees, and the humane thing to do would not be to say “too bad, so sad,” and send them back to live in squalor, or  even to be killed. The callousness in Ingraham’s remarks is striking; it’s as if she’s placing herself, as an American, ahead of everyone else in the world. Humanity is humanity; no one is better than anyone else based solely on their country of origin or their ethnicity. As for that last part, birthright citizenship is how we all got to stay here. If you are not automatically a citizen when you’re born, when do you become one, exactly? Can you imagine a country in which everyone has to take a citizenship test, or they are automatically sent – where, exactly?

She’s not alone with this sentiment. In fact, it seems to be Republican orthodoxy. Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert and his Texas compatriot in stupidity, Governor Rick Perry, both suggested that Obama was behind the whole thing, because he wants more Democrats. Gohmert said,

“In the end they have said they want to turn Texas blue and they want to turn America blue. If you bring in hundreds of thousands or millions of people and give them the ability to vote and tell them if you want to keep getting the benefits you have to go vote…that drives people to vote and it would ensure Republicans will never get elected again.”

And Perry said;

We either have an incredibly inept administration or they’re in on this somehow, I hate to be conspiratorial, but how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico, into the United States without there being a coordinated effort?…I have to believe that when you do not respond in any way, that you are either inept, or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from.”

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador recently was on “Meet the Press,” where he told David Gregory that Obama should ignore the laws designed to protect refugees and immediately remove the children and send them back. He said,

“The thing that this administration needs to do is immediately deport these families.  I know it sounds harsh, I know it sounds difficult, but they are creating a crisis at this that is actually going to harm these children.”

That’s just a sampling. It’s difficult to find a Republican official who hasn’t referred to this situation as a “crisis” for the United States (ironically, the crisis the kids are experiencing that have brought them here is barely mentioned), and it’s difficult to find imagery other than a bunch of criminals swarming over the border to take our jobs and commit serious crimes. What makes things worse is that the Republican Party is the party that (again, ironically) brags about its incredible Christianity.

We live in a nation in which 93 percent of all people claim a religious belief, and in which 86 percent of them believe in the same God. In fact, nearly four-fifths of Americans living here claim to be Christian. Despite this reality, one half of our government believes that the proper course for these children is to be sent back to their home countries, to suffer whatever fate awaits them. These right wing people who have taken over the reins of a major political party that poses itself as “more Christian than you” place such importance on themselves, that everyone outside of the United States is just lesser than they. Actually, I take that back, because there are a lot of American citizens for whom they have complete disdain.

Let’s get real here. The fact that 52,000 children have appeared at our border, wanting to come into America because it’s safer than where they came from, is a humanitarian problem. It’s not an economic crisis, and it’s sure as hell not an employment crisis. We used to be a great country, who welcomed people who were in trouble, and gave them a safe place to work for a better life. When did we become this mean-spirited country, where the poor and downtrodden are turned away because their skin isn’t the right color or because we’re afraid we may have to help them out with a little money. They were handed a bill of $3.7 billion to handle this situation, and Republicans refused to pass it. The modern Republican Party will gladly hand over $9 billion every year to oil companies every single year, and $3 trillion over a decade to pay for wars that were either unnecessary and immoral or hopelessly screwed up. but $3.7 billion to address 52,000 children who arrived at our borders — that crosses the line?

These children need our help, and they need our compassion. We also owe it to them in a way. They are refugees from countries that are experiencing war, in part because of our asinine (and failed) “War on Drugs.” Because we insist on pretending that we can stop people from using drugs via threats of prison and death, these children and their families are caught in the middle of a war between drug cartels all looking for a bigger slice of the illegal drug pie. What we should have learned from Prohibition was that making something illegal doesn’t make it disappear. It is our drug use, combined with the pretense that we can control it, that has led to 52,000 kids gathering at our borders. We have to own this, and realize that it’s mostly our fault those kids are there in the first place.

Not that it’s a big deal. There are 310 million people living here now; we can absorb 52,000 child refugees without much muss or fuss. We should take pains to stop more from coming over, but it’s not like we’re situated next to Syria, and people are pouring over the border by the millions. How do you think countries like Lebanon and Jordan our dealing with a real refugee crisis? When did we become such wusses?

It’s time the United States of America became what we have always aspired to. We need to once again become the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” as the song says, and stop being such wimps about situations like this. We have to get rid of the mean element in our society, which means we have to ditch the Republicans altogether. They have turned our country into something that no American should even recognize. We’re better than this.

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