To Understand – Borders and Migrants


At the start of this holiday season I wrote about Santa Claus and his “naughty” and “nice” lists. The conversation on social media turned to morality and how we define what is right and wrong. And then came a statement regarding a very particular moral issue — it’s never okay to tear gas children.

That statement gave me pause. Well, for one thing, I had to catch up on current events. How grateful I am for people who raise issues and help me keep up. After some research, here is a humble, very brief summary of what has been in the news for a while now: a large group of migrants (also referred to as a “caravan”) have been traveling from various parts of Central America, making their way to the United States border. More than 5,000 have arrived in Tijuana, Mexico and are receiving shelter in the city’s large sports complex. On November 25, a large group of migrants headed towards the pedestrian border gate in the hopes of a peaceful protest. But with frustration among them already mounting, the scene eventually changed to mass chaos and corresponding responses from the United States border patrol.  There’s probably a lot of detail I’m missing, so research your trusted sources to find out more.

There’s a lot I personally want to understand, but I’ll start with two questions:

  1. What are the main concerns we have as United States citizens regarding migrants and borders? What should we be considering?
  2. What would be a better solution?

I’ll start.

My biggest concern is that we can’t even look past party politics to find solutions. So much of what we’re dealing with is made murky by various agendas, the main one being spinning each story to gain support. The border is definitely an issue, as is humanity, immigration, rule of law, etc. But we can’t rationally talk about any of it in the face of such anecdotes and rigid statements.

As far as a better solution, I turn to the way I’ve grown as a parent. I used to think the only way to make my children obey me included corporal punishment — mainly spanking. I’ve since learned there are so many other ways to establish rules and expectations that my children will respect, none of which cause harm. But it took creativity, exploring other options, and an open mind. It also took humility and faith to believe that I could find something beyond my own paradigm that would actually work.

I believe the solution to this incident and others includes a lot of the same elements – an open-mind, humility, creativity, and looking to additional perspectives. These things can be avoided, but not without a lot more understanding on all sides.

What are your thoughts and questions on this particular issue?


  1. Your questions give me a lot to think about. I shall try to craft a response that is cogent.

    As the person who made the comment about tear-gassing children, I’d first like to expand in order to re-contextualize my thinking. I used that action as an example of my own despair at trying to have productive conversations at the table with partisan politics. I cannot get past that we argue over whether tear-gassing CHILDREN is EVER an acceptable action. Shouldn’t we agree that doing so is reprehensible and that making such a choice turns us into people and a nation that isn’t worth saving from whatever perceived threat those children represent?

    But then, my thinking is informed by my own experiences. First, I lived in Germany at various times during my childhood and, for the sake of brevity, is the place I consider where I grew up. That means getting bundled off to Dachau for history lessons at the tender age of six and again at eight, nine, and eleven. I remember well my first trip there. The stark pallor of the grounds. The lingering scent of so much death and destruction that permeates the air. There is a lovely stream there, crossed by a small footbridge that looks like the sort of place white urban elites find to carefully pose their families in matching color schemes. As you cross the bridge, which follows the path to the kilns where the bodies of so many were burned, you face a simple chain-link fence. On the other side of the fence is a small field, the horizon of which is broken by the shapes of the houses rising in the town.

    I asked my mother on that first trip if that town had been there when the kilns were working. She turned her gaze to the dotted horizon and sighed, “yes. They were there.”

    “Momma, how did they not KNOW what was happening right here so close to them?”

    Her face turned down to me. Her eyes searched mine to check that I knew what I was asking so that she might answer only the question intended and not what she presumed. Finding her answer, she nodded, “they knew, baby. They knew and they did nothing.”

    We had a long conversation then about the choices people make when they are so scared for themselves and for the families they are striving to protect. As a child, I struggled to reconcile that conversation with the truth of my own existence. A conversation delivered to me by a woman in the military who has made her life about that choice to take action even at the expense of herself and her family. I decided then and there that I would ALWAYS take action and speak up. Hopefully, before things have gone to far, but even if they have.

    The person I am today has been brutally radicalized by those childhood experiences. The stamp of that decision has simmered below my consciousness ever since, but has boiled to the surface since the 2016 election. I thought, for sure, that Trump would not win. How could he? His actions have always had the hallmarks of a dictator, someone dangerously unbalanced and inherently cruel. He has never lied about who he is, but the American people gazed at his effigy….and allowed themselves to be gas-lighted.

    And now, here we are. We shifted our eyes away uncomfortably when he mocked a reporter with a disability. We performed the familiar theater of victim-blaming when dozens of women described how he had sexually assaulted them to various degrees. We plugged our ears like children and shouted “la la la” when we were given audio recordings of him casually talking about his tendency to sexually assault women. We chalked up his comments about murdering people on 5th avenue to political hyperbole.

    And hate crimes have spiked.

    And Jews are being murdered in their synagogues.

    And Muslims are being murdered on their way to services.

    And transgendered people are losing their rights and being murdered.

    And women are finding their access to birth control, abortion services, and other medical treatments curtailed.

    And children are being forcibly separated from their parents and put into concentration camps despite being in violation of international law and despite the condemnations from other world leaders.

    And we are tear-gassing babies at the border by firing into the sovereign territory of another nation.

    And all the promises of his platform are crumbling like sugar in the rain as we see factories closing, the middle class shrinking, and the 1% getting richer.

    And, this is where the problems come in. Instead of blaming HIM or the Republican party who enables him, he has managed to convince his base that the problem is not the robber barons of the corporate set who refuse to set minimum wage at a livable level and who don’t pay hardly anything in taxes (much less their fare share). He’s convinced his base that the problem is those DIRTY IMMIGRANTS who are coming to STEAL YOUR JOBS and live on WELFARE while refusing to assimilate and tearing apart the fabric of the country you profess to love.

    I cannot show these people facts and statistics on how immigration is good for the economy. I cannot appeal to their patriotic love of America, the mixing bowl, who has always welcomed immigrants “yearning to breath free.” I cannot point out the truth of an individual’s immigration history to remind them that MOST of us were colonists who destroyed the First People of this country or were immigrants who later found their way to this shore before Ellis Island was shuttered and barred.

    I cannot use any of these points because these people are scared. So scared that they’ve decided that tear-gassing children is acceptable.

    And that’s where the conversation ends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is an amazing comment, Andrea. You not only touch on this subject but pull in the context of what’s really going on here. There’s a lot more going on than just an isolated incident.

      And by the way… you’re the one who helped me see past the traditional discipline tactic of spanking and push myself to find better ways of parenting. Your thoughts have always drawn me forward into new horizons of hope and harmony.

      I’m going to let a lot more of my own thoughts hang out in this reply to you. The blog is for providing a safe environment for everyone to feel their thoughts are welcome, but eh, this is my opportunity to share my personal opinion. Maybe there won’t be too many who read it anyway.

      Before getting into the current issue of immigration, I’d like to share a few thoughts about HOW in the world Trump became president and HOW anyone could have possibly voted for him. I am honestly mortified by Trump’s existence (let alone presidency), but I have thought long and hard about why he won in the hopes of understanding how to reshape the future. Understanding how we got here can be a powerful thing.

      You mentioned a lot of the horrors people shrug off and accept about Trump. I’d like to share a little of my own context that has come to mind as I’ve explored this question myself.

      I grew up with a strong sense of sexual morality. Sex is powerful and should be saved for marriage. My body is to be respected and protected. For me, it wasn’t about avoiding shame or fearing losing friends. It was about protecting unborn children from a life without two parents. It was to preserve my own right to be a child, a teenager, and not get thrust into hard, adult-level decisions. It was about asserting my right to my own body and not being overwhelmed by the pressure put on me by society and my peers.

      But my life was hard. I didn’t have any boyfriends. I wasn’t invited to parties. I had people (peers and adults) make fun of me for having boundaries and putting limits on myself to maintain that respect and to stay true to my own set of sexual morals.

      At the same time, I started learning about not judging others. If a friend found him/herself a parent, that didn’t make me better. My friends needed love and support, not judgment. But even there I failed. When I discovered a close friend had experienced sex with someone, I had no idea what to say to her, how to support her. So I just tried to act natural and let her share her experience with me in her own way. I learned years later I hadn’t done it right. She took me aside and explained that she had been raped (which had not come out in the original conversation) and she wanted me to recognize that I had been so insensitive and contributed to her pain. I had done my best and I still managed to screw up. There was no leeway, no understanding or forgiveness for me. Why should there be? I wasn’t the one hurt.

      Then in high school came the discussion about the difficulties experienced by the LGB community (the other elements of this topic didn’t come until later). I had an opinion and was negatively marked for not embracing and changing my entire paradigm in a twinkle. I didn’t have a safe place to think through these things with other open-minded people. Any time I talked to someone who strongly supported this new way of thinking, I was shut down immediately. I was a bigot. I was evil. I was the one causing this community so much pain by my very existence.

      I firmly believe we indeed need to continue to change and evolve as a society. But we don’t all get there the same way, because we start at such different points. Mixed messages and conflicting signals go around all the time, shaming and blaming along the way, on all sides. There is no safe space for anyone to think through and process anything before labels are slapped on and scars made fresh, on all sides.

      So Trump? That’s why some people can look at him and say, “What’s the big deal? Suddenly now you all care about sexual morality?”

      There has never been safe space to pick apart and piece together what we agree on. And there might need to be space for disagreement too.

      On to immigration. Your parallels with Germany and what is going on in our own country is something that has crossed many minds, I’m sure. Are we seeing the repeat of history? Are we becoming numb and blind to what is going on? These are questions we need to talk about and ask ourselves, but I think we have to be willing to experience some uncomfortable conversations to get at some answers.

      I have lived in several third-world countries. I have been to and visited places that have made me cry myself to sleep. I have seen parents exploit their children. I have seen parents make tremendous sacrifices for their children. I have observed cultures that have no respect for laws and law enforcement. I have seen law enforcement exploit and hurt when they should have preserved and protected. I have walked the streets filled with hopeless displaced people, sat and talked with them, listening intently to their stories. I have been loved for being a white American… and I have been hated.

      Immigration is froth with fear and hate everywhere. Nations globally are trying to make sense of what to do with crisis level amounts of refugees and displaced people in desperate need. Solutions are out there, but there’s no time. Fear is the real problem. Fear for the plight of the needy and fear for the exploitation of helping hands.

      Faith can combat fear. Faith that we will get through this. Faith that we will find a way. Faith in each other.

      Months ago I put together and participated in a mind-blowing discussion about immigration. An immigration lawyer joined us and gave us needed context. Conservatives and progressives alike shared ideas and it was amazing to see. But it meant having faith in each other. It meant allowing people to make uncomfortable comments without judgement. It took tolerance and understanding on both sides. Many of the elements you brought up about immigration surfaced in our discussion as well. Hmm… I should blog about that sometime….

      Thank you for bringing this up, for giving me space to think through and understand these issues better. I know I have a long way to go myself, but I have faith I’ll get there.


  2. It was great to read Andrea Smith’s comment.

    I agree that tear-gassing children is not OK.

    But adults who include children in a protest where tear-gas might be used is not doing the right thing either !

    I really hate being manipulated. I feel that the people at our borders are playing upon our decency by putting children on the front lines where the media can record it. I read about adults who beg–they teach their children to look sad and dirty. They get more money that way. People don’t like seeing children suffering and will pause to help them out with a coin or two. It’s a shame these beggar parents can’t see farther into the future than the immediate hand-out. They could encourage their children to get an education with it’s resultant honest job. Then there would be a better life for all through their own hard work and merits.

    I’m concerned about the flood of immigrant/asylum seekers into our country. I realize I’m very blessed to live here in the United States of America. But, watching this You-Tube video ( ) has convinced me that we Americans cannot…..CANNOT…..fix people’s problems just by letting them into our country.

    The people who are fleeing their own country need to invest in their own country, doing their utmost to make their corner of the world a great place to live….for themselves and their children and their grandchildren.

    The immigrants and asylum-seekers will have to go about it the way our laws have been set up to handle this. And if the American people would like to invite more people in, the current laws will need to be changed. It’s just as simple as that.

    I’m curious why now ? Why does everyone want to come to the US now, at this time in history ?


    • I saw the gumball presentation years ago and, at the time, I didn’t really like it because immigration isn’t necessarily about solving world poverty. This time around, and with the years of experience since, I have a lot more to think about, beyond even what the speaker intented. A lot more questions and the budding of some answers… Thanks for sharing that and giving me a chance to explore this important subject more.


  3. To add on: The United States of America spends billions of dollars in foreign aid to help countries throughout the world. This money is offered to help them with education, infrastructure, finances, business, medicine, hygiene, sanitation, technology, etc. We are striving to help these people to ‘bloom where they are planted”, to provide a reason for their most energetic citizens to stay and help their own country and countrymen.
    Our country is doing so much humanitarian good. I’m proud of that generosity.


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