Commentary
By Jim Wallis 1-09-2019

First, racism is always based on lies; it always has been and always will be. We saw that again in Donald Trump’s address to the nation on Tuesday. It was more of the same lies he has used since he announced his presidential candidacy in 2015. He used his lies last night to try to justify his border wall, the signature issue of his political campaign and administration, which people on both sides of the aisle have said has nothing to do with border security and everything to do with Donald Trump’s central message: You should fear people who aren’t white. The wall would be Donald Trump’s 2,200-mile monument to white supremacy. As I have said before, in Trump’s political campaign he become the Chief Tempter of America’s Original Sin. Now as president, he has become the Chief Defender of America’s Original Sin.

Second, last night many feared that Trump would designate his falsified national security crisis a “national emergency,” which would justify bypassing the legislature to fund the wall. Such an act would violate the separation of powers in the Constitution, continuing Trump’s dismissals of presidential protocols, practices, and the rule of law, potentially a first step on the road to dictatorship. Thankfully, Trump did not make that declaration — yet. But make no mistake: If President Trump concludes from this episode that he can invent an emergency to justify ignoring the limits the other branches of government, the survival of our democracy is in grave jeopardy. People of faith need to get ready to respond strongly if and when he takes this step and demand that Congress stand up for our democracy. Let’s be clear: There is no national security emergency at our southern border, but there is a national emergency and it is Donald Trump. There is also a humanitarian crisis that Trump helped create. And right now, he is only making it worse so that he can appeal again to the fear of his base.

Third, a note about our current humanitarian crisis at the border: Migrant children have been stripped from their parents, children and families have been detained in cages, and people seeking asylum have been held in deplorable and dangerous conditions. The real humanitarian crisis at our border involves women and children who have walked thousands of miles and are not given the opportunity to legally plead their cases on a timely basis. The crisis is about children like Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, who died while in custody of Customs and Border Protection after separately making the journey from Guatemala. Remember, no matter what Trump says or implies, applying for asylum is not illegal, and it’s protected under both U.S. and international law. That’s what most of the people currently at the border are waiting to do.

In the face of Donald Trump’s lies, we must continue to stand up for the truth. And the truth is that most illegal drugs are not trafficked illegally across our southern border but rather come through legal ports of entry. The truth is unauthorized immigration to the U.S. has consistently dropped since the year 2000. The truth is immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than U.S.-born people.

It’s also true that Trump’s reckless partial government shutdown is causing another humanitarian crisis in America. I saw that crisis on the faces of the TSA workers who served me twice already this week despite not being paid. There are 800,000 faces of government workers all over the country who will not get a paycheck this week and are struggling to meet the needs of their families. As is so often the case, the people who will be most negatively impacted by the shutdown are some of society’s most vulnerable, who as Christians we are commanded in Matthew 25 to treat as we would treat Jesus Christ himself.

If this shutdown continues it will make large numbers of people hungry and homeless. For example:

  • If the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) doesn’t get funded further, 38 million Americans will likely begin losing their monthly benefit that helps them put food on the table for their families.
  • WIC, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which aids 7 million low-income Americans considered at nutritional risk, has already run out of federal funding, with states attempting to bridge the gap.
  • Affordable housing is at risk. More than 1,000 contracts between the federal government and building owners to provide Section 8 affordable housing are in limbo until the government reopens; meanwhile, the government is relying on the goodwill of these landlords to not start evicting people.
  • Immigrants seeking asylum are also suffering because of the shutdown. For example, court hearings for asylum seekers and other immigrants have to wait to be rescheduled because of the shutdown and some of this rescheduling will not happen for another year.

The U.S. is still the richest country in the history of the world. It is more than equipped to handle a humanitarian crisis like the one facing thousands of families at the border while also protecting its population. I and other faith leaders do not oppose border security — we want humane solutions that work and protect people on both sides of the border. We can improve surveillance and control at border crossings and ports of entry to reduce the illegal drug trade, make smart investments to decrease the backlog of pending asylum cases, and use more humane and effective alternatives to detention. We can also take sensible steps like increasing guest worker visas to better reflect the demand in the U.S. economy.

Right now, it’s important that you tell your senator to pass funding bills to restore the operation of government agencies, without approving Donald Trump’s 2,200-mile monument to racism. Then, let’s debate what common sense, humane border security should look like on a bipartisan basis without holding the basic functions of a big chunk of our government hostage.

In the midst of a coming constitutional crisis and a humanitarian crisis on the border and throughout the country for the most vulnerable among us, there must a deep response. It must be a cross-sector political, moral, and religious response to the genuine crisis we are locked in.

As part of our role in civil society, the voices of our faith communities across religious traditions must become central, clear, and courageous. Blind and compromising political support for Donald Trump is no longer responsible, nor is silence out of the fear of politically divided congregations. Both support and silence must now be named as antithetical to the gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ and the first principles of all our faith traditions. No more transactional agreements with this president over policy matters that ignore his personal and public amorality. Not only is democracy at stake, but the integrity and credibility of faith is now also at stake, especially for a new generation.

We must prepare to respond, both spiritually and strategically. It’s time to come together to discern the times we are in and commit ourselves to responses that change the narrative and seek the soul of the nation. I believe we should begin to prepare with prayer and fasting to ask God to make us ready for what lies ahead.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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