What part of ‘Love thy neigh­bor’ do we still not get?

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY LEONARD PITTS JR. [email protected]­ami­her­ald.com

“All life is in­ter­re­lated.” Martin Luther King Jr. “Imag­ine all the peo­ple, shar­ing all the world.”

John Lennon

Afew words about “us” and “them.” It is, of course, the base­line divi­sion of hu­man ex­is­tence, prob­a­bly dat­ing from when the first per­son sparked the first fire. It’s a divi­sion that has been painful, bloody — and use­ful. Par­tic­u­larly in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

“Vote for me,” goes the age­less, im­plicit ap­peal, “and I will pro­tect us from them” — who­ever “them” may be at any given time. Right now, “them” is, among oth­ers, any­one from south of the bor­der who shows up on Amer­ica’s doorstep seek­ing sanc­tu­ary.

And it might be good to spare a thought for “them” as the na­tion — or at least, the three quar­ters of it that iden­ti­fies as Chris­tian — makes the turn into that faith’s sea­son of light, com­pas­sion and hope. As the halls are decked and the joy bells chime, as songs of fel­low­ship ring in the air, it seems an apt time to pon­der a tweet from a few days back by one Larry L. Sandigo.

He’s an im­mi­gra­tion lawyer in Ari­zona who works pro bono for a non­profit le­gal ser­vices or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Florence Im­mi­grant & Refugee Rights Pro­ject. And his tweet, retweeted over 47,000 times as of this writ­ing, went as fol­lows: “In court this morn­ing, I asked the judge if my client could wait out­side. She was be­ing fussy. He said yes, and she was car­ried out. Even then, I could hear her whim­pers and cries. She’s 2 years old. She had on a pink coat. To­day was her de­por­ta­tion hear­ing.”

There’s a lot we don’t know from that tweet. We don’t know his client’s name. We don’t know where she’s from. We don’t know how she came to be here. We don’t know where — or who — her par­ents are.

But some things we do know. We know that she is in court alone be­cause she is not one of “us.” We know she might be ir­re­triev­ably scarred be­cause she is one of “them.” And we know that this has be­come a com­mon thing. We know that this is Amer­ica now.

And here, some­one is pip­ing up in protest with harsh plat­i­tudes about lim­ited re­sources and all the evil that im­mi­grants bring. By these rhetor­i­cal means, that some­one will try — and fail — to shout down those things we know.

It’s an old dance. We’ve done it many times be­fore. But it feels es­pe­cially poi- gnant to do it now, as Thanks­giv­ing re­cedes and peo­ple be­gin to string their houses with light. We pre­pare our­selves for Christ­mas, a sea­son cel­e­brated as the birth of a di­vine baby who grew up to warn that, “What­ever you do unto the least of these, you have done it also unto me.”

Mean­time, ba­bies go to court. And is that irony one smells? Or just the faint reek of hypocrisy?

Here’s what we’ve never quite un­der­stood about “us” and “them:” Race does not de­fine it. Nei­ther does re­li­gion, sex­u­al­ity, ge­og­ra­phy, gen­der, ed­u­ca­tion or money.

No, the only “us” worth talk­ing about is the “us” of peo­ple striv­ing for the courage to see com­mu­nity in dif­fer­ence, their own hu­man­ity star­ing out from the eyes of the Other. And the only “them” worth striv­ing against is the “them” of peo­ple who lack that courage, who find it eas­ier and safer to live within divi­sion.

This is the ser­mon Martin preached. It is the song John sang. And it is the life that di­vine baby lived. “Love your neigh­bor as your­self,” He said. Yet, it re­mains a les­son learned im­per­fectly at best, as ev­i­denced by the very fact of a court hear­ing to turn a baby away from Amer­ica’s gates.

As the halls are decked. And the joy bells chime. And fel­low­ship songs ring in the air.

JOHN MOORE Getty Images

A Cen­tral Amer­i­can im­mi­grant child wait­ing to be trans­ported af­ter be­ing de­tained by US Bor­der Pa­trol.

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