In Athens-Clarke County there’s currently a very public controversy over whether to comply with requests for detention from ICE (the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency) and if so, to what extent? A couple of weeks ago I released a blog post noting that only notification of ICE appears to be mandated by the Georgia code, while detention is optional, and urging all sides to come to the table with the Sheriff’s task force to reach a solution.
This week, I personally witnessed a scene which has convinced me unequivocally that the policy of cooperating with ICE is unjust. It was an experience that reminded me, as a Christian, of the admonition in Deuteronomy 24: “Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a citizen or a foreigner residing in one of your towns…. Do not deprive the foreigner or the orphan of justice.”
Just yesterday, I visited the humble home of four fellow American citizens, children whose father had suddenly been taken away from them, leaving them with no means of paying their bills. Their father had committed no crime against our community. ICE had been searching for someone else when they visited his address, but finding that this man was undocumented, they hauled him off and sent him away, leaving his children, all citizens of our great nation, in fear and without a source of income and support, deprived of a parent’s love and protection. When I arrived at their home, a simple trailer, everything was dark. Although the power had not yet been shut off, the family — having been left without a bread earner — was conserving and only turned on the lights to make me, their guest, comfortable.
Prior to this visit, I had wanted to wait for the Task Force to try to negotiate an end to this injustice. I had asked that folks come to the table to talk. But the idea that we can wait faded away when I met these kids and learned of their story. I became convinced that ICE, as it currently operates, is depriving the foreign worker of justice and is turning American citizens into orphans, impoverishing children by dealing out a disproportionate punishment which punishes the innocent along with the accused.
I have spoken with the law enforcement of Athens-Clark County. I have spoken with the state attorneys. I have spoken with local leadership. And now I have spoken with those most immediately affected by the current policy.
I now urge the Immigration Task Force to recommend no cooperation with ICE beyond state legal requirements. I urge local law enforcement to adhere to that recommendation of doing the bare minimum. Furthermore, I urge the legislature to remove any and all legal mandates of cooperation with ICE from our state code and will personally work to achieve this goal.
It seems to me that the Biblical admonition to “judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or alien” is in line with both the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and conforms with the impulses of what President Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” The urge to scapegoat, to punish, and to expel, on the other hand, comes from a darker side of our nature — from fear and suspicion and selfishness. What I saw yesterday should not be happening here, period. American children should not be plunged into poverty, physical duress, and emotional devastation by having a locally law-abiding father arrested before their eyes and summarily shipped out of the country.
I am not saying that we should have “open borders” or that we should ignore crime. What I am asking for is justice, due process, and proportionality, because punishing these innocent young citizens so severely for an act over which they had no control, and in the absence of any immediate need to take such harsh action, is one of the most un-American acts I have ever witnessed.
Pictured above: 4 young American citizens Anahi, Jesus, Nancy, and Lucero with Representative Spencer Frye