Pity the “Eight Hundred Thousand.” Pity those who came here as the children of parents who moved illegally to the United States. Pity them for every day they walk in dread: Will they be deported if President Trump loses in his power play with Congress over their future? Them or the Wall.
They, these children, some adults now, live in a place uniquely dreadful as they go through each American day — the only days most of them know or can remember. Pity them as they go about their business of school or work, speaking the only language many of them know: English.
Pity them as they wonder if they will be forced, by brutal deportation, to start life over in country in which they may be truly aliens. Not so bad for those from Ireland or Australia, where they will be accommodated by enlightened governments, but those are the small minority.
Think, instead, of those who must go back to the poverty and war, the deprivation and violence, the sheer horror of a life so harsh we cannot with ease imagine it. That is what awaits them in much of Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle East.
The illegals committed what is only a misdemeanor in law and tried to improve their own lives and dared to hope for work, food and shelter in the United States. They hoped for more for their dependent children. They shared the same motive that has always brought people to these shores: the dream of a better life.
Unwanted migration is a huge global problem. The desperate vote with their feet. Ironically, illegals have one of the qualities prized in our culture: enterprise. It is not easy to get here and it is not easy to live in the shadows.
But must the children of illegals also live in the shadows, fearing the knock on the door that ends their hope? Must the iniquity of the fathers, as it says in the Book of Exodus, be visited upon the children?
The administration has worked mightily to demonize all illegals, to brand them as murderers, rapists and job-snatchers despite study after study showing illegals to be more law-abiding than the citizen population. Yet Trump is set on deportations and triggering a season of fear in the migrant community.
The knock on the door is one of the terrifying sounds that echoes down through history, a knell of horror for the oppressed. When the state — whether it was the Roman state, the Inquisition state, the Nazi state, the Soviet state or the apartheid state — comes a-calling, it is a time of unmitigated fear.
To hold the “Eight Hundred Thousand” hostage to Trump’s other immigration demands is callous and supremely cruel. He has claimed sympathy for the children who are here through no fault of their own, but his subsequent actions belie that.
Is the president’s only motivation to undo, with pathological fervor, everything that President Obama did? Is the human cost to have no entry in his ledger?
If the deportations begin to include the Dreamers, then there will be shame aplenty to go around. Shame on the Republicans in Congress, who mutter privately against the Trump excesses but do not act, perhaps out of fear of Twitter ridicule. Shame on the evangelical churches, who preach family values but are silent on the tearing apart of parents and children, husbands and wives, mocking all that they profess to hold dear.
There is an economic case for considering the issue of illegals, who are here and contributing mightily. But the moral and human case for the children — these innocents who have adopted us — is prime. Time to adopt them.
To leave the “Eight Hundred Thousand” in limbo is to tear the cloth of our decency.
I get regular cascades of emails that ask: What is it they do not understand about “illegal”? I ask: What is it they do not understand about “innocent child”?
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS.