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Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty

If Donald Trump actually follows through on his recently tweeted promise that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “will begin deporting the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States … as fast as they come in,” what will you do?

According to the faith I was raised with I hope I would act according to the lessons found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus told of a traveler who was beaten, stripped, and left naked waiting for death. People who claimed to be great believers avoided this victim, but it was the Samaritan who stopped and freely rendered aid—selfless altruism. Charity, compassion, and forgiveness are the highest values I was raised with. I do my best to dedicate myself to their service, and I’m sure I’m not the only one left in a bind: what will I do?

Recent stories tell of modern day Samaritans rendering aid to travelers (some seeking asylum, some trying to immigrate legally, some illegally…) at great risk. The case of Scott Warren in Arizona presents offering humanitarian aid as a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison; but there is no verdict, the jury is hung. His specific crimes are putting out food and water, and pointing directions (actions consistent with No More Deaths, a part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson), which appears reflect values just like I was raised with. Do I have the strength to follow my religious convictions, even in the face of criminal prosecution like Warren has?

Our current context should make us struggle no matter how much we think we’ve figured out. The case against Food Not Bombs taught us–after some alarming incidents to the contrary–that feeding the homeless is an act of protected expression, but with migrants the acts of feeding and pointing direction could invoke serious punishment. Do you love your Mexican or Central American neighbor enough to risk prosecution?

I’m imagining in decades schoolkids will read narrative accounts from this period. Much like we learn about the great lengths Harriet Tubman went to in order to free 300 slaves, or the reflections of a teenager who wrote: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Anne Frank did not survive, but her diary did. The Frank family went into hiding and they received aid from people who risked their lives to help provide them shelter. The purpose here is not to compare the current crimes against humanity against the events which have caused us to promise “never again.” The purpose is to genuinely acknowledge “I can do more to help these people.”

The people seeking a better life in this country are not criminals for wanting to secure safety for their families, but they are cruelly punished nonetheless. They risk death in this effort. If captured they are placed in camps where their families are separated, and they lack in the service of basic needs–like soap and toothbrushes. These overcrowded internment camps fail the values of people taught to do good in this world.

Many Americans are inspired by the same teachings I learned from Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Trump has told more than 10,000 lies, and I am sure he has no means to follow through on his declarations of deportations. I believe it is unlikely those housing needy migrants have much to fear, but I must also acknowledge the risk associated with doing the right thing. Shockingly, 24 detainees have died in ICE custody during the Trump administration;how many more lives have to be lost before we as society force a commitment to honor the traveler? How many of us will rise to occasion of helping in the meantime? How many of us will make excuses for ignoring the children in need?

What I see today from the self-professed Americans of faith, however, is supremely disappointing. Instead of considering the children being separated from families and listening to their terror-filed-screams, some prefer to ask: “why didn’t they try to come legally?” I realize not everyone was taught to build bigger tables instead of bigger walls, but I don’t understand the ignorance—people literally see no other option. “A place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities” is the definition of a concentration camp. There are people more offended by the correct use of the term “concentration camps” to describe these conditions than the conditions themselves.

There are concrete steps we can all take. The first is to insist that we stop tolerating dishonesty in all of its political forms. Next we can demand accountability from those in power whose monumental failures have produced this calamity. It is our responsibility to vote in replacements who will not further these crimes against humanity. We can also remember the supreme value of acts of love and kindness and look for ways to offer simple hospitality, human empathy. It is not necessary that anyone take on more risk than they feel safe with, but we all should speak out for those who do. Anne Frank was right; we can start making a better world right now. Lastly, we must not give up; the people have the power and we can make the government work for us if we collectively use our voices. Apathy or resignation is the death knell for democracy.

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