James Dobson on the Border: We Need a Wall to Keep Out the Poor

James Dobson on the Border: We Need a Wall to Keep Out the Poor July 1, 2019

One of the most difficult things about growing up in an evangelical home only to question many of my community’s beliefs as an adult is realizing that authority figures I was taught were good, well meaning, and kind are nothing of the sort. Take James Dobson, for instance. He was practically worshiped in my parents’ home.

When I left and then had children of my own, I questioned what Dobson is most famous for—his parenting advice, which centers corporal punishment and parental control. But I suppose part of me still wanted to believe, despite everything, that these authority figures I’d been taught to trust weren’t complete frauds.

And yet here we are, at James Dobson’s utterly horrific and completely bizarre July newsletter. It seems Dobson was invited by the White House to tour the southern border, and his conclusions are head-spinning.

I’ll let him tell you what he saw:

Dear Friends,

Several weeks ago, I was invited by White House staff to visit our southern border at McAllen, Texas, where federal agents are struggling to deal with a massive influx of poor and destitute human beings. They come in never-ending waves. Please believe me when I tell you that the media and leftist politicians have not been truthful about what is going on there. It is a human tragedy.

When I started reading Dobson’s post, I thought for a brief moment that maybe—just maybe—Dobson was about to buck the standard Republican line and argue that we should have compassion for these poor and destitute human beings. He certainly recognizes their utter poverty and destitution. Isn’t there something in Christianity about helping the poor and needy, welcoming the refugee and stranger? At least I thought there was. If there is, Dobson hasn’t read it, because that is manifestly not where he goes with this.

Approximately 5,500 people show up every day in districts organized along our southern U.S. border. McAllen is the site of only one of them, but it is the busiest and most besieged. The “refugees” arrive exhausted and ragged from walking hundreds of miles. Among them are large numbers of children, many of whom are unaccompanied by a caring adult. Last year, 382,000 aliens were apprehended for illegally crossing into this country and almost 100,000 of them were minors. Some of the kids have been abused along the way. Many of them carry lice, scabies or other diseases. Currently, the facility I visited is experiencing a flu epidemic, and there are no additional beds on which to lie. Some of the women have been raped. More than 70 people of all ages are sent to local hospitals daily along the southern border. Doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed by their patient load. Remember that word, “overwhelmed.” It describes every aspect of the effort to deal with the situation there.

The most heart-wrenching experience occurred during our tour of the holding area. It is a huge gym-like building consisting of dozens of fenced-in areas. Each one is crowded with detainees standing or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on benches. They stared out at us with plaintive eyes.

I noticed that almost none of them were talking to each other. The children looked traumatized and frightened. Tears flooded my eyes as I stood before them. They had no toys or dolls, except for a few items bought by compassionate border patrol agents. One tiny little girl clutched something that resembled a doll bought for her by an agent. There are few provisions made to accommodate the children. The week before we were there, a delegation of agents went to meet with members of Congress, and begged them for additional money to buy Pampers, toothbrushes, and other necessities. They were turned down flat. These meager supplies have to be purchased with the border patrol budget, which is stretched to the limit.

Poor and destitute people, traumatized and frightened children, overcrowded and inadequate facilities. This is all true, and at this point I still thought I might find some compassion. But you can already sense a spin.

There are scare quotes around the word “refugee,” and Dobson blames Congress for not appropriating enough funds to adequately run these detention facilities, when there are reasons for the current impasse. Trump won’t sign a bill to offer funding unless it includes funds for a border wall, and Democrats don’t want these people held in detention facilities in the first place—they want them released to their family and friends in the U.S. Dobson does not acknowledge or mention any of this.

Still, if you’re optimistic enough, you can keep hoping, at this point, that Dobson is going to end up somewhere partly good here. He’s repeating Republican talking points about funding, and he views border patrol agents as heroic and compassionate, but surely, with this amount of attention to traumatized and frightened children and over-crowded cages that are “heart-wrenching” to see, there must be some compassion to be had here.

But no. There is nothing salvageable here. Refugees and asylum seekers? The poor and destitute? The problem, according to Dobson, is that we can’t just preemptively shut them all out. 

My heart aches for these poor people. Lest I be misunderstood, let me make clear that I am among the majority of Americans who want the border to be closed to those who attempt to enter illegally. There has to be a better solution than this. I have wondered, with you, why the authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to this nation. Can’t we just send them back to their places of origin? The answer I received was “No,” for reasons I will explain.

Only 10 percent of the detainees are Mexicans. This year alone, people have come to our southern border from 127 countries, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey, India, China, Palestine, Albania, San Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and other nations around the world. They speak their native tongues, which means they can’t be understood by each other or the staff. What are we to do with them? The Mexican government will not take them back, and there is no place to send them. Our current laws do not permit us to repatriate them to their country of origin. This is a disaster with no solution or projected conclusion.

Do you see what is happening here? Dobson says he wants the border closed to those who attempt to enter illegally, and asks why authorities don’t just deny these refugees access to the U.S. entirely—as though that is the question here. (And as though applying for asylum is now illegal.) The disaster is not these people’s desperate circumstances. No. It’s that they can get into the U.S. and we can’t kick them out.

Let me tell you how these desperate people come to be our responsibility. They are the lowest rung of many societies. They sell their shanties and any other possessions to scrape together $3,500 to $10,000 to pay “coyotes” to guide them. I don’t know what happens to those who can’t meet this demand. Apparently, most manage to pay the fee, and arrive penniless and profoundly needy. I was told that some of the vulnerable children are “recycled” repeatedly to help men gain entry to this country. An unknown number of these men are hardened criminals and drug runners, and they are difficult to identify. Most make their way across the border.

Where is Dobson’s sense of compassion? There is none. Dobson doesn’t seem to care that these people were living in shanties, or that they were in desperate enough circumstances to sell everything they had on the chance to get to a better place. No. He is upset that these “desperate people” are now “our responsibility.”

As he goes on, he only makes this more and more explicit.

Here’s something else you should know. I have been under the impression that these would-be immigrants try to cross the Rio Grande River and outrun or evade the agents. That is not true of most. They come in large groups, from 100 to 400 people at a time. As I write this letter, a record 1,200 people arrived together at El Paso. The refugees quickly give themselves up to agents. That is why they have made this journey. They know they will be fed, medicated, and treated humanely, even if they are in holding areas while they are in our custody. Then they will be released on American soil. This is the system set up by a liberal Congress and judges. It is a well-known fact that President Obama’s administration established many of these unworkable policies, and Congress is steadfastly unwilling to change them. Every effort at reform has been overridden or ignored. It is set in stone. Democrats want massive numbers of immigrants who will someday become voters. Some Republicans support the policies because they want cheap labor for agricultural purposes. The border could be fixed, but there are very few in authority who seem to care.

This is disgusting. Refugees and asylum seekers should be fed, medicated, treated humanely, and released on American soil—isn’t that the Christian thing to do?—but Dobson talks about that as a problem. He argues that Democrats are only pro-immigrant because they want votes (despite the fact that only U.S. citizens can vote). Can you imagine seeing the world like this? It’s not just that Dobson has a complete lack of compassion for utterly desperate people. He is also convinced that no one else can possibly have compassion for these people either—and that anyone trying to help them must be acting wholly on ulterior motives.

I’m going to summarize a bit here, because Dobson’s piece is long. Dobson describes the process used at the border. He argues that many of the families that appear at the border are “fake families” formed to “game the system” take advantage of the Flores agreement, which states that children cannot be kept in custody for over 72 hours. He argues that these children then become “anchor babies” who are citizens, even though this is literally not possible—only babies born on American soil get automatic U.S. citizenship.

And for someone who founded an organization called “Focus on the Family,” Dobson is incredibly dismissive of the families showing up at the border. In fact, he’s downright angry that families are being released into the U.S. rather than being kept in inadequate detention facilities he already described in horrifying detail.

Ten years ago, 90 percent of illegals apprehended at the border were single males, mainly from Mexico. Now, more than 50 percent show up with babies and children, and 90 percent of them are from countries other than Mexico with 64 percent being family units or unaccompanied alien children. Together, they claim to be “families” and within three weeks, they will be home free in America. Is there any doubt why there have been more than half a million illegal immigrants this year alone?

So much for caring about the family. (Also, I hate that I have to keep mentioning this, but asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants. Asylum seekers who turn themselves in to border patrol—as these are—are perfectly legal immigrants. They only become undocumented if they later fail to show up at a court date.)

Dobson next praises border patrol agents as American heroes. They are compassionate, he says. They care about the detainees. They are unfairly vilified and mocked by American citizens, and have “one of the most thankless jobs in America”. He acknowledges that caring for all of these detainees is taking up time that could be spent looking for drug runners, but he does not come to the obvious conclusion—that perhaps we should not be keeping all of these people in detention to begin with. No. His solution is far different.

The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump’s border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it. Those who oppose him do everything they can to impede his effort. That is why I went to the border to see the situation for myself. I came away with an array of intense emotions. First, I was profoundly grieved over the misery of thousands of people. Second, I felt a deep appreciation for those who are doing their best to help in an impossible circumstance. Third, and frankly, I was angry at the political fat cats who have deliberately allowed this chaos to occur for political or financial gain. They, and their friends in the fake media, have told the American people that there is no crisis at the border! Shame on them all.

What I’ve told you is only a glimpse of what is occurring on the nation’s border. I don’t know what it will take to change the circumstances. I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Dobson has seen the desperate people at the border, destitute families begging for help, for a chance to create a new life in the U.S. And his conclusion is that these families are fake, and that the U.S. should build an impregnable wall to keep all of these needy people out to begin with. A giant wall would prevent them from entering our immigration system, and our country, to begin with.

For Dobson, that is the crisis at the border. Not the desperation of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing violence, which Dobson saw with his own eyes, but the fact that they’re being allowed into the U.S. There is nothing redeemable about Dobson’s version of Christianity. Nothing at all. It has putrified beyond what I once thought possible. There is no morality left here. None. It is rotten to its core. Maybe it always was. But when I was a child, I trusted my parents and my community members, and I believed there was good there.

There is no good here.

I’ve been trying to analyze why this piece struck me so hard. I knew Dobson’s politics were terrible. Why am I surprised? What struck me, I think, was the head-spinning juxtaposition between Dobson’s admission of the horrific situation these people are in, and his equally horrific solution—to simply shut them all out. There’s a terrible disconnect that feels almost physical. It’s like saying the solution to homelessness is to close homeless shelters. Or like saying that working to ban sodomy is a way to show “love” to LGBTQ people.

I don’t usually quote Bible verses, but I think that needs doing here.

Luke 10: 25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

And that’s it. I’m out of words. But not anger.

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