Cruelty Hurts Democracy Here, Persecuted Minorities Overseas

Immigrant Children Photo from Hola-ArkansasProtecting our borders is an obligation.  Automatic detention of illegal immigrants and separation of children from their parents is not. There are more morally defensible options that could be chosen.  Cruelty towards immigrants practice puts our democracy at risk, along with our ability to advocate for persecuted minorities overseas.

How could there be a connection between the way our government treats illegal immigrants and our democracy?  Perhaps that connection would be hard to find if most illegal immigrants to our country weren’t Hispanic.  Yet they are.  So where is the connection?  The connection exists because US Hispanic citizens see how illegal immigrant Hispanics are treated and they are beginning to fear the treatment has less to do with protecting our borders and more to do with discrimination against Hispanics, Catholic Christians, and Spanish speakers.

If that belief sets in, much of the Hispanic vote (more than 20 percent in 4 states worth 109 electoral college votes) will shift away from the party in power. In at least a few states, that might mean power can be kept only through voter suppression.  This is a story that older Americans know only too well:  suppression of the Black vote throughout the Jim Crow era ultimately led to violent riots, many bombings, and several assassinations (Martin Luther King being the most prominent) throughout the country.

Mistreating Hispanic illegal immigrants has other costs too.  Many Americans care deeply about the persecution of minorities overseas, whether it is Christians in the Middle East and Asia, Buddhists in Tibet, or the Rohingya in Myanmar. Our mistreatment gives every repressive regime the perfect excuse to continue their cruel policies.

Part of the trick in getting democracies to work year after year is convincing people that winners won’t entrench themselves and losers won’t sabotage the winners.  A big part of the way this problem is solved is by guaranteeing people a wide range of political and civil rights.  With their rights guaranteed, people whose leaders are not in power can still enjoy their freedom and dignity. People enjoying their freedom and feeling respected, in turn, rarely feel the urge to sabotage the folks in power.

Our government’s behavior – and our own behavior – can undermine faith that guarantees will be honored, even when they written into the Constitution and laws.  When that faith dies, there is every risk that our democracy could die along with it.  By contrast, a good way to defend our democracy is to ensure that each of us do our part to maximize freedom and dignity for all.

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