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Humanity vs. the Rule of Law

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

It was back in my early undergrad years when I first came to understand the broad reach of US foreign policy. I completed a social work internship in Los Angeles at a safe house in east LA in a largely immigrant community whose goal was economic justice and solidarity with working families. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charitysitting at the table with our house administrators. They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it up as a sanctuary for refugees. That day they greeted us with a choice.

A family of refugees from Central America were en route to LA and needed housing since the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins had already agreed to do this but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. This was the late 80s and providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was both controversial and illegal. We were nervous, but young and very eager to do something that seemed radical. Over the following month we learned that the risk we had taken paled in comparison to theirs. Nothing could remotely compare with the horrors they had endured or narrowly escaped; threats of rape, violence and being abandoned to die in agony in the desert, or the uncertain future they faced in a country hostile to their very existence.

I remember the backlash I and others received from several in my class. In their eyes we were subverting the rule of law. But what rule of law were they speaking of? Was it the one that informs virtually all of American foreign policy? The one that trains mercenaries at infamous places like the School of the Americas? The same one that fueled the genocide of 250,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company? Or the rule of law that created a brothel for US corporate interests in Havana? Or backed the genocide in Indonesia done by rabid fascists? Or supported coups that upended a democratically elected government in Chile? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Iran? Was it the one that carpet bombed Cambodia, napalmed North Korea or tested nukes on US soldiers and the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands? Would that rule of law include Indian Removal? Or Jim Crow? Or state sponsored lynchings? Or internment camps for Japanese Americans during WW2? When it comes to the American Empire what rule of law is there outside of that which pertains to the rights of corporations, or the ruling Capitalist class, or the military industrial elite? How many crimes has the global north committed against the global south; and how many of them have been explained away using the sanctimonious parlance of the rule of law?

I fast forward to today and wonder what has changed? US foreign policy certainly hasn’t. It continues to punish Cuba and has not stopped its war mongering against Venezuela. It still promotes the racist “drug war” that makes life a misery for countless people. It still defends industries that pollute the waters and the soil that indigenous peoples depend on, like in the Amazon in Ecuador by Chevron. It still backs rightwing coups like the one recently championed by Hillary Clinton in Honduras which installed a government that terrorizes its population and is ultimately responsible for the murder of scores of Indigenous and environmental activists, like Berta Cáceres who understood well the reach, ramifications and scope of American foreign policy, especially its impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of empire.

And what has changed at the border? The same people terrorized by American foreign policy are still dehumanized, traumatized, deported and even murdered in cold blood when they manage to arrive there hoping for a better life. Even Hillary Clinton advocated for sending undocumented people back as a solution, and Obama is on record for deporting more immigrants than other presidents. But if there is anything that has changed in recent days it is the deepening depravity of such policies. Thanks to Trump’s inhuman policy of separation of children from their parents, the breathless cruelty of the US Border Patrol and ICE produce a virtual Sophie’s Choice every day. Even showing human kindness toward these children is grounds for termination from employment.

So the outrage I have today is not dissimilar to the outrage I felt years ago.  I still see the faces of those refugees I stood in solidarity with several years ago from Guatemala. And when I read about the migrants being detained and sent to cages with foil blankets or hear the recordings of inconsolable cries of children torn from their mother or father, I see their eyes peering through me. And I think of that “rule of law” argument waged by my classmates years ago. The same argument made by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders who then buttressed it with Biblical references. Such a rationale only exists in the minds of those whose humanity has long been gutted. It’s one that has been used generously by scoundrels throughout time to ignore their complicity in creating the turmoil in the first place, and then defending the cruelest of policies against the human beings affected by that misery. And my response to such barbarity remains the same as it was back then: to hell with their rule of law.

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Kenn Orphan is an artist, sociologist, radical nature lover and weary, but committed activist. He can be reached at kennorphan.com.

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