Our most searing points in history are often defined by how we treat children. Particularly children who are alone.
In the last four years, the Trump administration’s separation of children from their parents left an indelible mark. New research we conducted in North Carolina begins to show the extent of family separation’s ripple effects among voters who once identified as evangelical Christians but no longer do.
In a question asking people to prioritize different immigration policy pieces, white former evangelicals rated “reuniting immigrant families separated at the border” most important with, “Ending family separation at the border,” ranking third.
Keep in mind that, “Keeping terrorists and criminals from entering the US” ranked second most important and “constructing a wall along the US-Mexico border” was least important for white former evangelicals.
There’s evidence the issue helped move votes. In our survey, 49% of white voters who used to identify themselves as evangelical voted for Joe Biden. Of this group, 14%, or somewhere between 90,000 and 135,000 voters, switched from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020.
Robby Jones, president of the Public Religion Research Institute told me after the election that the group of “religiously unaffiliated voters” had been growing to be a quarter of the population. “One of the ways that the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown is by an exodus from white Christian traditions,” including white evangelical.
“End family separation” is a key recommendation on our list of priorities for the Biden administration; it’s one of a number of potential executive actions that enjoy bipartisan support. Restoring refugee resettlement should be another.
In the first in a series of reports looking at the national security case for changes to the immigration system, Elizabeth Neumann, former Trump administration DHS Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and now a senior advisor to the Forum on national security matters, wrote, “Participating in the solutions [such as the US Refugee Admissions Program] to address the needs of forcibly displaced persons benefits our nation’s security.”
Solutions should not be limited to the late stages of migration. In fact, in President-elect Biden’s first call with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, the two “noted a shared desire to address the root causes of migration” in the Northern Triangle and southern Mexico and discussed “a new approach to regional migration that offers alternatives to undertaking the dangerous journey to the United States.”
Finding the balance between compassion and security is one of the greatest challenges facing governments around the world. Avoiding the mistakes of the past means long-term solutions in sending countries need to be combined with humane migration policies at borders.
Last week, for Only in America, I spoke with Irena Abdelalem Abdelmaksoud, a protection officer with Info Park who specializes in working with unaccompanied children Belgrade, Serbia. In a powerful conversation, Abdelmaksoud told me that in her five years on the job, “I think we’ve seen that the government and other countries are treating refugees and migrants worse and worse.”
The plight of today’s unaccompanied minors seeking safety in Europe takes us to the story of Lord Alfred Dubs.
In 1939, as the Germans entered Prague, “My mother was refused permission to leave so she put me on a Kindertransport,” Lord Dubs shared. When he arrived in London as an unaccompanied minor, he said, “I was very lucky because I had someone waiting for me who was a parent as opposed to some of them who only had foster parents.”
Organized by Nicholas Winton, a British stockbroker who did not talk about his actions for nearly 50 years, the 1939 Kindertransport saved “669 mostly Jewish children” from invading German forces in Czechoslovakia.
Now, as the United Kingdom staggers to a year-end Brexit deadline, seeking increased authority to stem migration, Lord Dubs is fighting to protect unaccompanied minors because, as he said in a recent interview, “I might have been stuck in Calais.” And across the channel, EU members debate a new Pact on Migration and Asylum.
Forcing children and families to remain stuck against borders, whether they be Hungarian or Mexican, is not a sustainable solution. Outsourcing migration policies to human smugglers makes us less safe and fails to live up to the legacy of Nicholas Winton and so many others helping unaccompanied minors and migrant families.
A Biden administration and new Congress will face difficult decisions along our border — and at borders around the world.
An important, and growing, slice of the electorate is watching.