A growing number of religious leaders have begun criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to separate the families of undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers who present themselves at the U.S. border. While many of these individuals are completely genuine in their comments and some have spent decades supporting immigrant and refugee rights, it was Franklin Graham’s comments I was most struck by.
“It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit,” Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, told the Christian Broadcasting Network on Tuesday.
“I blame politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to the point where it is today,” Graham added. “We are a country of a laws, laws need to be obeyed, no question about that, but the situation we have today as a result of our lawmakers in Washington over generations ignoring this.”
Graham supported Trump throughout his campaign and beyond, and was well aware of the anti-immigrant talking points and promises which were central to Trump’s campaign. It’s not as though this was a secret. The idea that a person could see immigration policy change under a president who promised to stop, jail, and prosecute immigrants like never before, and then blame the new, harsher policy on his predecessors, is bizarre.
And yet that is what Franklin Graham just did.
Graham’s decision to point fingers everywhere but Trump—to blame “politicians for the past 20, 40 years” and “lawmakers in Washington over generations” for Sessions’ new policy separating minor children from their parents, in the midst of an anti-immigrant climate goaded and fed by Trump—is disingenuous and willfully deceptive.
Of course, Graham is not the only one claiming that immigration enforcement under Sessions is merely business as usual (it’s not). He is also not the only one pointing a finger at Democrats. Trump himself has claimed (falsely) that Sessions is merely enforcing laws created by Democrats. The reality is that Sessions has begun rewriting and reshaping immigration law all on his own, Congress be damned. Still, all of this begs a question.If separating children from their parents at the border really were merely the result of enforcing existing law—law created by Democrats no less—why not change that law? After all, Franklin Graham’s party controls the presidency and have strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Why not simply change the law to end these separations?
Not to be missed, Graham did end his comments with a very short, vague call for change (see the very end of this video):
“And I am hopeful that soon something could be done to fix it.”
This comment is just about as indirect and vague as possible. Graham does not call on Trump to change the policy, nor does he point to any specific change. Coming right after a refusal to admit that Trump or Sessions had any part in what is in fact a new policy of separating children from their parents—and a heavy does of the pass-the-blame game—Graham’s vague call for “something” to fix it feels mealy-mouthed and ineffective.
I would be glad to see the current uproar over the separation of immigrant families lead Republicans in Congress to craft a legislative fix. I would want to know what is in that fix, because there are cases where the medicine is worse than the disease and Republicans have spent the last few years parroting Trump’s dehumanizing rhetoric on immigration. I am unwilling to assume that they actually have immigrant parents’ best interests in mind. Still—I would support a fix.
By and large, Republicans, including Franklin Graham, have responded to Sessions’ new policy of separating families with some combination of “laws need to be obeyed, and breaking them has consequences” and “sure this policy is terrible, but the Democrats made this law, not us, don’t blame us.” A few Republicans have called for a legislative fix—but likely a very narrow one. Here is what I have yet to see: An admission that policies such as this are the natural result of years of dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a mea culpa for allowing such rhetoric to go on unchecked.
It’s not like this new policy came out of the blue.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!