Last weekend, I was with my wife at Boston’s Orpheum Theatre with several thousand others to hear the music of Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle and Lila Downs as part of “The Lantern Tour.”
The tour’s purpose was to raise funds for the Women’s Refugee Commission, an organization that advocates for women and children fleeing violence and oppression. This group has been deeply involved in defending families that have been brutally separated by the Trump Administration’s war on immigrants.
The music was inspiring. The message was one of solidarity, a commitment to the deepest of human longings – for home and family – and a call to our nation to return to the better angels of our nature. The timing couldn’t have been better, given the horrors of the past week—pipe bombs sent to Trump critics and the media, and a domestic terrorist attack on innocent Americans perpetrated by an extremist opposed to immigrant rights and harboring the deepest anti-Semitic violence in what passes for his soul.
As has happened far, far too often in the Trump Era, my brief feeling of hope was dealt a body blow when Trump announced the deployment of over 5,000 American soldiers to the Mexican border on October 29th. According to Trump, his Republican Party minions, and the extremist media—like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News—the move was necessary to counter a so-called “caravan” of invaders. I was shocked by this announcement, and it should shock any decent, thinking American.
This is not an invasion. It is a group of several thousand immigrants, mostly women and children, fleeing the intense violence in Central America for the chance of a better life in “El Norte,” either in Mexico or the U.S. The caravan is weeks, if not months, away from reaching the U.S. border.
Their intent is not to bring crime, or terrorism, or economic disruption. They seek asylum, to peacefully cross the border and apply, legally and within the process governed by law. They are not unlike my grandparents, who fled the chaos and violence of eastern Europe a hundred years ago.
Yet, Trump is fixated on these immigrants—not because they are a danger, but because they serve his political purposes. He has vilified them, telling lies and stirring up the worst of fears among his supporters to coerce them to vote in the Nov. 6 midterms. Fox News host Shepard Smith said as much on his Oct. 29 show.
There is no role for the military here. These refugees are not our enemy. They seek sanctuary. We are taught to welcome the stranger; the sacred scriptures our nation claims to honor all contain this command. Instead, Trump calls out the military, and for what, exactly? His own purposes. Using our soldiers as political pawns, Trump has conjured up a fake military threat that he’s fueled with fear and lies in hopes of spurring a surge of support for his party.
This action represents a dangerous abuse of power by the commander in chief. More than anything else, the framers of our Constitution feared an autocrat misusing the power of the military. That’s why the Constitution requires Congress to declare war and why Congress holds the power to impeach presidents who abuse their power.
While presidents throughout our history have taken huge liberties in the use of our military, this action by Trump signals something new and far more dangerous. It is the epitome of a presidential abuse of power.
And when Trump doubled down in his attack on refugees by claiming that he could issue an executive order denying citizenship to the children of immigrants, he displayed the kind of arrogant ignorance that is—quite frankly horrifying.
Aside from the obvious, that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution would be violated by such a blatantly illegal order, I am left to ponder an obvious question: Why does Trump hate immigrants so much? As one who has lived nearly his entire life in NYC, did he ever take notice of Lady Liberty?
I hold true to the ideals she stands for, and I live in hope that my fellow Americans do as well.
Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
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