‘Those aren’t whips’

Way back in 2008, Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, “a tiny white supremacist organization,” according to the ADL, coined the term “Alt-Right.” In August of 2017, Spencer exploded onto the scene, instigating the violence in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens of others.

These days, Charlie Kirk tells his followers, “Deputize a citizen force, put them on the border” in order to protect “white demographics in America.”

And, Governor Abbott (Texas) goes onto Fox News to tell Border Patrol agents under investigation for their treatment of Haitian migrants, “You have a job in the state of Texas. I will hire you to help Texas secure our border.”

Honestly, it isn’t worth my time (or yours) to look for more examples of white nativism on the heels of the last four weeks of immigration news.

But I do wonder how conservative and moderate Americans will respond to the continued hardening of our politics. Will the Kirk/Abbott xenophobia pull voters to the extreme? Or, are people looking for a different approach?

Last week, in conjunction with The Bullfinch Group, we released results of a nationwide online survey fielded just as the photos of thousands of Haitian migrants in Del Rio were dominating the news cycle.

We found that 65% of Americans — including 61% of Republicans, 63% of Independents and 75% of Democrats — agreed “that the United States should have a legal, secure process in place to take in people from oppressed or war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan.”

While we did not explicitly ask about Haitian migrants, the details were promising: 68% of evangelicals agreed, along with 70% of those who formerly identified as “born again or evangelical.”

While polls describe the forest, the trees are often more interesting.

So, I reached out to our friends engaging conservative and moderate evangelical women to ask what they were hearing. Turns out a lot.

The We Choose Welcome community has seen a 10% increase in Instagram followers since the crisis in Afghanistan began. And, more importantly, they have seen an acceleration in private state-based Facebook groups that allow for women to engage in more direct dialogue.

Meanwhile, over at Women of Welcome, a more conservative leaning community, they have seen a 134% increase in content interactions and a 57% increase in accounts reached as they began to focus on the situation in Del Rio. Their recent Instagram discussions of the situation facing Afghans across the country and Haitians in Del Rio, combined, have had more than 10,000 views, outperforming other recent videos.

What is most interesting are the comments women write once they are connected to the communities.

“Honestly, I’m not sure how I found you,” one woman wrote. “But it felt like perfect timing because I recently became interested in the situation happening at the boarder [sic] in Del Rio.”

Another shared with Women of Welcome, “There was a small tug on my heart when things started happening in Afghanistan … and then a few days later learned about you guys.”

After one of the Women of Welcome staff reached out, a woman wrote back, “I am new to learning more about how to engage in the conversation about immigrants and refugees.” She realized the process would include “having to un-learn and re-learn things learned or not learned in church.”

Leaders of the communities feel the interest and engagement will continue to grow. In fact, Women of Welcome has seen nearly 500 pre-orders for their new Bible study, Christ-like welcome, that will launch in early October.

In the Washington Post,David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, makes the point that we are in the “age of impunity” where democracy is in retreat as “2019 was the first year in a hundred with cumulative GDP of the autocracies greater than that of the democracies.”

Miliband went on to say that in response we need an “age of accountability,” to “defend the most basic rights.” Including those of the aid worker and the migrant.

My point here is that those who want to audit election results are the same people who demagogue immigrants and refugees. Vilifying immigration is a powerful point of entry to undermining our democracy. Because, they don’t want a democracy that changes the “white demographics of America.”

In the months ahead, their rhetoric is sure to get worse as the midterms near. And, we can only hope the violence we saw in Charlottesville, El Paso, Oak Creek and at the Tree of Life does not repeat itself.

Which brings me to this response.

“From your post about Haitians made in the image of God,” a woman wrote the Welcome team. “I am a Christian but I feel like true Christianity is lost and people are so divided politically they are equating their political beliefs with their faith based beliefs.”

What transpired in Del Rio was on her mind. “I have Christian friends messaging me and saying ‘those aren’t whips,’ and to me it doesn’t matter if they are using reigns or whips, it’s wrong,” she wrote. “We are called to love God and love others and love strangers.”

Giving conservative and moderate voters a place to go on immigration that is not extreme is important not just for immigrants and refugees, but for the strength of our democracy.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.