In anticipation of Congress’s return to the Capitol after the Fourth of July recess, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter to House Democrats. She told them, “Whether or not the President responds to our request to improve medical care standards for the health and safety of children, and while Senator McConnell still refuses to help the children suffering in these deplorable conditions, we must lead a Battle Cry across America to protect the children.” She pledged to proceed with legislation on concerns that Republicans refused to include in the appropriations bill before they left town:
• Accountability: legislation introduced by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar to bring more accountability to the Department of Homeland Security through stepped up community engagement, best practices training for CBP and ICE officers to foster more professional conduct and fairer border enforcement, and a ban on the separation of families, except when it’s in the best interest of the child;
• Medical Care Standards: medical care standards legislation led by Congressman Raul Ruiz to ensure the health and safety of children and adults in custody;
• Timing: reporting the death of a child in custody within 24 hours and no advance notice required for Member visits to facilities;
• Influx Facilities: a limit of 90 days for any unaccompanied child to spend at an influx facility and replacement of contractors not meeting influx facility standards of care;
• Compassionate Processing of Children & Families: a multi-agency, integrated, migrant processing center pilot program for families and unaccompanied children.
Likewise, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) went to the Senate floor to blast the administration and Senate Republicans for denying there was an acute problem at all. “Last week, the DHS inspector general released a report detailing horrid conditions at border facilities. This is the president’s own DHS Inspector General saying how bad conditions were,” he reminded his colleagues. “And over the weekend, the New York Times and the El Paso Times released the latest account of conditions at the Border Patrol Station in Clint, Tex.” He continued: “A facility built for 100 adults had become a modern-day internment camp for up to 700 children—700 children—at a time, many locked up for weeks on end. Some children without beds to sleep on. Food shortages. Insufficient sanitation. For heaven’s sake, we read reports of children suffering from outbreaks of scabies, lice and chickenpox. Cruelty. Cruelty once again.”
He then laid into President Trump: “But what does President Trump do? Typically, what he did here is denial, distortion, distraction. President Trump should be focused on fixing the problems that exist instead of blaming others.”
Schumer raised a perfectly legitimate question: “President Trump, you want to fix the border?” The answer they keep giving us, by words and deeds, is no. (“Let asylum seekers to apply for asylum in their home countries. Increase the number of judges to process the cases. And for heaven’s sake, restore aid to those of Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to help them crack down on gang violence and drug cartels, so people wouldn’t flee for fear of their lives from the gangs.”)
The question — do Republicans care about the suffering of asylum seekers? — should not be considered rhetorical. It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans and evangelical conservatives specifically don’t care about “the stranger” fleeing oppression. That’s effectively what the data tell us.
In a recent CNN poll, 93 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents disapprove of how we have treated the asylum seekers, but 62 percent of Republicans approve of the conditions we’ve seen documents in the inspector general’s report and in news accounts. “There is a similarly large partisan divide over whether refugees from Central American countries should be able to seek asylum in the US. While a majority of Americans (60%) say yes, that stands at 85% among Democrats, 60% among independents and just 31% among Republicans.”
The right to seek asylum, of course, is recognized as a universal human right (Article 14). Until recently, America had a long tradition (whether it was Vietnamese “boat people,” Cuban refugees or persecuted Christians) of taking in oppressed and desperate people. When we have failed to live up to that tradition, history has judged exclusionists harshly. But Republicans give all of that the back of the hand. (Now even the number of Christian refugees has dropped precipitously.)
Here’s one reason for Republicans’ antipathy toward those seeking asylum: White evangelical Christians, who are the most solid Trump backers, look unfavorably upon refugees. Pew Research found in May 2018: “Roughly half of Americans (51%) say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while 43% say it does not.” The partisan divide is stark, however, with only 26 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying the nation has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country. When you drill down on the numbers, you find this:
By more than two-to-one (68% to 25%), white evangelical Protestants say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees. Other religious groups are more likely to say the U.S. does have this responsibility. And opinions among religiously unaffiliated adults are nearly the reverse of those of white evangelical Protestants: 65% say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country, while just 31% say it does not.
Well, that explains a lot. Greater percentages of every other religious group and religiously unaffiliated Americans all think there is a responsibility to take in refugees; the one group most enthusiastic about Trump is the least likely to care about the oppressed and desperate people seeking refuge.
It does make one rethink who comprises the “moral majority” in the United States. It’s not clear if white evangelicals’ cultish defense of Trump prompts them to agree with Trump on refugees or whether Trump, by playing to white grievances, has ramped up the xenophobia among his supporters.
In any event, Republicans overwhelmingly have rejected a central tenet in their own faith tradition (“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in”). They reject the United States’ reputation for generosity and for compassion in taking in those fleeing intolerable conditions. They reject one of the enumerated universal human rights. Democrats are right to talk to voters about faith and what obligations go with their professed faith traditions.
What do we do with the calloused and indifferent Trump Republicans who feel no obligation to treat families humanely? You outvote them and thereby repudiate their cruelty and callousness. You vote your values.