Guest Columnist

Cruelty at the border is not justice

Migrant families from Mexico, fleeing from violence and seeking asylum in the United States, are met by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Paso del Norte international border crossing bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)
Migrant families from Mexico, fleeing from violence and seeking asylum in the United States, are met by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Paso del Norte international border crossing bridge in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Many Americans are in tears reading stories of children being ripped from their parents’ arms at the United States-Mexican border. Stories of families separated with no certainty of when they’ll be reunited.

This is a collective gut-check moment for America. President Donald Trump and the Department of Justice have taken a stand on justice, on enforcing the law. And that means that parents who break the law (in this case, in crossing the border) will be temporarily separated from their children. As Americans, we already accept this premise, knowing that parents who break other laws — on theft, drugs, abuse — are necessarily removed from their children as well.

But is the Department of Justice administering this justice with the proper measure of mercy?

As a Christian, I find that the Bible’s Book of Micah offers a guiding principle of doing right: “He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (emphasis added). This is biblical.

That means we should execute justice, yes. But not with the kind of cruelty we’re reading about from the border with Mexico.

“Family first” is a fundamental, biblically supported principle of ordering society. The nuclear family, where children are raised, is a more foundational social unit than a nation. So unless the authorities have a case of the most extreme circumstances — one involving, say, terrorism, trafficking or child abuse — the government has no right to place a national border between a parent and a chid.

Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the Department of Justice’s “zero tolerance” policy of border enforcement, we can all call on our government to do better. We can demand that the government deliver justice consistent with our values.

When agents from the Department of Justice, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Health and Human Services call immigrants names or tell a weeping mother, “You won’t have a family anymore” and “You will never see your children again” — as one agent reportedly said — they do wrong. Cruelty is not justice. We don’t need to be cruel to enforce zero tolerance.

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President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Congress: Fix this. Some of our government agents are making us look terrible through their harsh actions. We are a better country than that.

It would be even worse if reports are true that some migrants are “being sent back to Central America while their children remain in U.S. foster care thousands of miles away.” That would be unconscionable. Inexcusable. If that’s going on, you need to stop it immediately.

We can have justice with mercy. It is possible to be “tough on illegal immigration” without being cruel to illegal immigrants.

President Donald Trump, Mr. Sessions, members of Congress, if you’re going to execute justice, then be just. And remember, you have a calling to “do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

• Bob Vander Plaats is the president of the Family Leader, an Iowa-based nonprofit Christian organization. This column first appeared in The New York Times.

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