Rabbi Arthur Waskow reflects on the deep scriptural issues at stake with the current Trump administration policy that separates children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Please see the Shalom Center’s action steps.
Rabbi Waskow writes: “One leading official of the United States Government has claimed that biblical calls to obey the law are paramount here. We affirm that the Bible actually speaks the contrary.
Some officials are saying – even boasting – that the family-separation policy was deliberately intended by its ruthlessness to deter families from coming to the United States, seeking asylum because of well-founded fears that their lives and the lives of their children are in immediate danger if they were to stay in Central American countries that have been overwhelmed by violence.
But the Bible sees the world through God’s commitment to justice and compassion: “You shall not hand over to their masters serfs [or, some translators say, “slaves”] who have escaped from their masters to you. They may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which they choose within your gates, wherever it seems best to them. You shall not maltreat them” (Deuteronomy 23: 15-16).
Of course neither the biblical understanding of serfdom, indentured servitude, or slavery nor the experience of these refugees today, fleeing murder and rape and seeking asylum, is identical with the past of chattel slavery in the United States. Yet their experience bears elements of the same ruthless and violent subjugation. And this biblical verse is uncanny in its direct address of the crisis we face now, even more than other, broader teachings about love and justice for “foreigners.”
And the “law” that Attorney General Sessions cites to subjugate love and destroy our families is not law at all. It is a policy concocted by elements of the present US government that actually violates the law. It is intended to keep asylum-seekers from making their case as they are entitled to do both by US law and the binding law of the land, embedded in treaties the US has ratified.
It is about “laws” like these that the Bible speaks and Isaiah (10:2) cries out, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”