04 July 2018

"To Have Saved the Whole World": On Immigration Reform and Family Detention

I recently re-watched Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning film, Schindler’s List. It’s a film I often return to when faced with the world’s crises, particularly when the world’s, and my own, silence in the face of injustice seems to ring loudest. What usually strikes me most is the moment when the Schindlerjuden present Oskar Schindler with a gold ring engraved with a quote from the Talmud which reads: “He who saves the life of one man saves the world entire.” A variant translation of this reads: “Whoever destroys a single life is considered … to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered … to have saved the whole world.”

This quote flooded my mind as I reflected on the recent acts at the United States border and the efforts to curtail illegal border crossing through the forced separation and detention of children. What follows is the text of my letter of July 1, 2018 to members of Congress, the White House, and the Office of the Attorney General in response to these actions and policies:

I am writing to implore you to continue pursuing alternatives to detention in mitigating illegal crossings at the United States border. Like most Americans, I have been horrified by the narratives coming from the southwest border of the United States. The President’s recent executive order which calls for families to be detained together does nothing to solve the problems of the Zero Tolerance policy, as it does not address or contain any policy or provisions [for] the reuniting of families already separated under that policy.

Text of Letter to Congress, the White House, and
the Office of the Attorney General (July 1, 2018) 
America has long been a nation under the visage of a towering statue that stands as an emblem of freedom, the mighty woman with torch in hand representing the “Mother of Exiles.” Today, what could be more representative of her cry to those seeking liberty’s light than the story of parents willing to face all odds to protect their children? I also recognize the efforts of past administrations to wrestle with the delicate balance of enforcing the law and deterring illegal border crossings while acting humanely and with compassion. Yet the Zero Tolerance policy, the resulting separation of families, and this new detention policy represent stark and terrifying departures from this balance. The detention process runs equal risks of being inhumane, with families potentially detained indefinitely, or destructive to the ability of courts to provide any semblance of due process as families endure “expedited” legal processes. Further, there is no guarantee or provision in the President’s executive order that reunites families already separated, limits the period for which families are detained, ensured due process, or guarantees that the administration will not resume or continue the separation of families now or in the future.

 Immigration policy is certainly a matter of great importance to the American people. But no less important are the human rights and moral principals at stake. Laws must be enforced, but humanely. Immigration policy must be reformed, not radicalized. I therefore urge you to continue working on both sides of the aisle to pursue alternative options that will keep families together outside of immigration detention and lasting reform to the question of immigration.

Most Respectfully,
Khara House

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