The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally.
When the woman resisted, she was handcuffed, Natalia Cornelio, the attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, recalled from her interview with the woman, who had been detained under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer anyone caught crossing the border illegally for federal prosecution.
Once again: If you support this, I don’t want to hear a damn thing about your pro-life beliefs.
Put another way: If you’re a person who complains about government tyranny when OSHA makes you file safety plans in triplicate, but you’re cool with this, you lack all moral sense.
A friend gently admonished me a few days ago after I lamented America’s lack of mercy. “Turning the cheek is what Jesus and the apostles taught and modeled on a personal level. They understood and taught that government needed to be tough at times. I wish you were able and willing to make that crucial distinction.”
I am able to make that distinction. But there are moral limits: Otherwise there are no Nuremberg trials, no mocking invocations of “just following orders.” There are legal limits: The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” which would seem to include ripping a baby from her mother’s arms while breastfeeding — but conservatives famously (and conveniently) interpret that provision with absurd narrowness.
In America, at least, government supposedly serves at the behest of its citizens. When an agent rips a breastfeeding baby from its mother’s arms, it does so on our behalf. And the people who do the ripping — they’re not automatons. They’re people, with their own independent moral agency. I wonder what the agent in this story did that night. Did he or she go home, have dinner with family, help son or daughter with homework?
Was he or she even slightly troubled by taking a baby from its mother?
How do they justify this?
America, like any country, has a right to set immigration limits and enforce them. But as I’ve said before, the Trumpian methods of enforcing the border may be — morally, if not legally — a greater crime than crossing the border without permission.
A key feature of any crime worthy of the name, it seems to me, is that the act of committing it is clearly and negatively disruptive, either to an individual life — a person may be injured, killed, deprived of property or merely their sense of well-being — or to the community at large. (Indeed the disruption to an individual is seen as a disruption to the community: That’s why criminal prosecutions are carried out in the name of the state, rather than individual victims.)
It’s worth pointing out that illegal immigration is a somewhat arbitrary crime. We know instinctively if somebody’s committed a crime when robbery or a murder or an assault takes place; these crimes have been understood and punished throughout the history of humanity. Immigration? There’s a lot of legislative negotiating that goes into deciding where the lines are drawn. Illegal immigration isn’t a crime because the conscience is shocked by it so much as it’s a crime because a committee somewhere decided that it is.
In this understanding, one understands that ripping a baby from its mother does far more harm than her crossing of a border.
In this understanding, one understands deporting a young man who has no memory of his native country is hurtful and unnecessary.
In this understanding, one sees that robbing a community of people who have become its members — business owners, workers, classmates — is more disruptive to a community than failing to have paperwork in line.
Every family separated, every grandparent deported, every Dreamer who is left to rot in an unfamiliar country — they are wounds we are inflicting on ourselves. We can’t see it yet. But we will.