aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

It's easier to do it right than to make it right

In 2014, I helped lead a Scouting mission trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This required, first, having everyone obtain a U.S. Passport. Second, all of those passports had to be granted a Visa to enter that country, stamped at the embassy in Washington, DC. before we left. Third, DRC requires each party entering the country to file an itinerary and get separate permission for each place they intend to visit -- a kind of "internal visa." It's a difficult system to master, and trying to appeal a decision you don't like isn't easy, either. So it's important to do it right from the get-go. I sent a whole bunch of documentation ahead so that our local contacts could work on our travel arrangements. So, we didn't just show up at the border.

Not only that, but we took the time to consider how to relate to the authorities while we were there. Congo is an authoritarian country. That can mean "heavy-handed," but it doesn't always have to. Congo is a complicated place. The Belgians were, indeed, heavy-handed, capricious, and sometimes downright cruel, and that legacy is still felt throughout the country. The government is sometimes called Boula Matari, which was Henry Stanley's nickname when he was riding roughshod over the Congo in the name of King Leopold. It means, "breaker of rocks." But even aside from a generally heavy governmental hand, the Congolese people have great respect for authority. They revere elders. They like the courtesies to be observed (never have I been saluted in Scout uniform as often as I was in Congo).

When we were marching into Tenke, it was called to my attention that the Chief and his staff had come out to greet us. This is a significant honor. And as I went over to shake hands with the chief, I made sure to remove my hat. Yeah, I know: Americans don't bow to anybody and all that. But Americans need to learn how to observe the courtesies as well as the laws of the places they visit. By showing respect to the Chief, I was gaining goodwill for our mission, as well as showing that I wasn't a barbarian. The Chief came to visit our encampment, and I made sure to give him the Cook's tour; likewise, before we left the village, we paid a courtesy call on the Chief in his office. I think we left a good impression behind us. It was certainly our intention to do so.

I realize that some people wind up having to flee places in a hurry and sometimes arrive at border crossings with nothing but the clothes on their backs. That is not the case with people from Central America crossing our borders between ports of entry. Those persons have had to plan a trek as least as difficult and complicated as our trip to Africa. They have considered the risks, and they have decided that doing things by the law is something they don't have to take too seriously. And we, being who we are, do not meet them with cruelty. We take them into custody and treat them well while we figure out how to return them to where they came from.

But they are seeking asylum, you say. Well, if they showed up at a port of entry and said they were seeking asylum, they would be taken seriously and their cases heard as promptly as could be. Of course, claiming asylum doesn't mean you qualify, and they know it. Making the claim is easy, but the answer -- under our law -- is often NO. So they don't try to claim asylum until they are caught entering the country illegally. It is to our credit that we still allow them to claim asylum under these circumstances, but adjudicating the claim involves extra time and trouble. Meanwhile, the children in their company (frequently, NOT their own children) have to be taken care of.

Would I like to see families kept together? Sure, if it could be done. But I'd like the law to be enforced, first and foremost -- properly and humanely, but enforced. If Congress decides to change the law, then we'll enforce that law; until that time, we'll enforce this one. It is right and moral to do so, regardless of the poverty our unauthorized visitors would like to get away from.

Attorney General Sessions has been vilified for his quoting St. Paul on the duty of obeying the authorities. He spoke of the proper enforcement of the law as a good in itself. The rabbinical tradition, beginning with commentary on the Noachide laws, would agree. But if St. Paul isn't good enough for you, perhaps we could reference a quote from Jesus himself: he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber . . . And yes, I understand that Jesus was not talking about immigration policy, but unless entering by the right way is understood as good and entering by the wrong way is understood as bad in the ordinary way, then the figurative way of understanding Jesus as the shepherd to whom the sheep belong using the door in the right way has no meaning.

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