The Crime of Human Migration: Our Dystopian Future


Children of Men_Migrant Cages

United States Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has blamed the recent deaths of two migrant children in U.S. border control custody on “a system that prevents parents who bring their children on a dangerous illegal journey from facing consequences for their actions.” Attend closely to the language here:

“… a dangerous illegal journey …” (emphasis added)

In other words, not only the attempted entry into the United States, but the journey itself is deemed illegal. Is this a slip of the tongue? An inattentive use of language? Or does it reveal an underlying attitude toward migrants in general?

Taking her remarks at face value, Secretary Nielsen asks us to assume that migrant families begin their journey to the United States with a definite plan to enter our country illegally. This is an uncharitable assumption, to say the least. Even worse, it feeds into a brutal mindset that sees migration itself as illegal.

The nightmare scenario envisioned by Alfonso Cuarón in his dystopian 2006 film Children of Men, in which all migrants are caged like animals (see image from the film above), is moving inexorably toward its fulfillment.


Where Next on Illegal Immigration? A Liberal Dad Explains His Mid-Term Vote to His Conservative Son



The funny thing about our argument last night is how much it reminds me of arguments I used to have with your liberal Democrat grandfather. It’s like looking in a reverse mirror, in which I’m playing my dad and you’re playing me.  I don’t want to re-start the argument, but I do want to clarify my reasons for voting Democrat, and to assure you that my vote was not motivated purely by emotion.

The issue of illegal immigration was definitely pivotal in my decision.  But here’s something you should know.  P and I had a text conversation (the only form of conversation we seem to have anymore, which can be frustrating and counterproductive) a couple of weeks ago, in which I thought we made a breakthrough. I said to P that I would support a border wall (or other measures to make unauthorized border crossings more difficult if not impossible), if he would agree to consider amnesty for the undocumented immigrants already here (excluding, of course, anyone who has committed a violent crime since coming to this country, or anyone who poses a credible security threat). I also offered the suggestion that the federal and state funds and resouces freed up by the effectiveness of a border wall (or other border security measures) could be re-focused on streamlining and modernizing our overall immigration processes to allow more — not fewer — migrants and refugees to enter our country and become assimilated. To my great surprise, P agreed with this proposal, and assured me Trump would go along with it.  The latter assurance I greatly doubt, but I was still surprised that P and I could agree in principle on a wall for amnesty deal.

The problem is that the conversation about illegal immigration needs to move in a very different direction than most Republicans seem to want to take it. I think we should listen more to the stories of people who make the risky choice of crossing the border illegally. We need to make more of an imaginative effort to put ourselves in their shoes. We need to develop greater empathy. None of that is going to happen, if Republicans continue to present political advertising that encourages their base to think of illegal immigrants first and foremost (and perhaps exclusively) as “criminals” or “violent criminals”.  When it comes to a willingness to take the conversation in a more empathic direction, I think P, despite his love for inflammatory rhetoric, is exceptional among my conservative friends — J, for instance, is far more hard-line and would never even consider amnesty.

For me to vote Republican would be to support a trend in the conversation that goes in the precise opposite direction of where I think it should go. Our attitudes toward the undocumented population says a lot about who we are. That at least is my view of things, and it is very much influenced by my Catholic faith, which is not a thing of pure emotion and never has been. I’m fine if you disagree with my view.  I don’t expect to change your mind. I hope at least you see that my decision to vote Democrat was based in some form of reasoning and not just emotion.

My political disagreements with my liberal dad (if only he could see me now) never changed the fact that he loved me and I loved him.  May it always be the same with you and me.


Open Letter to a White Friend on the Question of Racism



What is racism?

This really seems to be a burning question for you. While I’m tempted to detect in this question a bit of dissembling and evasion, perhaps even some bad faith (especially given many of the things you have uttered about different racial groups over the years, which may or may not be a joke, and even if they are a joke, are problematic to say the least), I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are asking the question in good faith. In what follows, I will limit myself to the issue of racism directed toward black people, as this is the form of racism most relevant to the American situation.

Following the best philosophical practice of St. Thomas Aquinas, I will begin by defining “racism” in terms of what it is not:

  • Affirmative Action is not racism.
  • Black History Month is not racism.
  • Black Lives Matter is not racism.
  • Black people preferring to spend time with other black people is not racism.

Calling these things “racism” is one of the enduring tropes of reactionary politics. It should be obvious they are not racism, but I’ll elaborate momentarily if it’s not clear to you. Let’s continue on the Thomistic path and identify a few more things that are not racism (or at least not quite):

  • Ethnic and racial jokes are not (necessarily) racism.
  • Complaints that Affirmative Action is applied unfairly to white people is not (necessarily) racism.
  • White people preferring to spend time with other white people is not (necessarily) racism.

I think these are enough examples. As mentioned, it should be clear that the first set of examples have nothing to do with racism. To call them racist in the light of history is obscene. Affirmative Action, Black History Month, Black Lives Matter, and Black Community are legal, educational, political, and social responses to the experience of black people living and suffering under the boot of historical racism, or at least in its long shadow. So now we come to your question, What is racism?

Racism in its most extreme form, is the inscription of certain notions of racial superiority (and, pari passu, racial inferiority) upon the laws and culture of a nation or community. Racism in this context is an instrument of state oppression targeting people who belong to specific racial groups and setting them apart for discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion. Such practices can ultimately lead to ghettoization, deportation, and extermination. Racism in its most extreme form is synonymous with the Racist State. The most obvious and infamous example of the Racist State is, of course, Nazi Germany. Another clear example is South Africa during the Apartheid era. The American Confederacy, on the other hand, as horrific as were its beliefs and practices, probably would not qualify as a true Racist State when compared to Nazi Germany and Apartheid-era South Africa. Racism in America, while certainly applied to black bodies and minds as a systematic form of oppression, has always been more a theoretical justification for an economic system and “way of life” than a founding principle of the State itself. But there is no question that the legal and systematic oppression of black people under the institution of slavery and later under Jim Crow was racist to its core. And the legacy of that racist history is still with us. Which brings us to the second set of examples above.

You will have no doubt noticed my hedging, my parenthetical use of the qualification “necessarily”, when it comes to exempting from the category of extreme racism the examples in the second set. Why do I hesitate and dissemble so? Quite simply, it’s because I know who I am. And I know who you are. We are the bad conscience that haunts that parenthetical “necessarily”, which gives the lie to all claims of innocence. If racism in its most extreme form is no longer an institutional reality in America, it’s no thanks to people like you and me.

Go ahead, roll your eyes in expectation of another Liberal panegyric to the idol of White Guilt, but please bear in mind that my point here is simply to identify the traces, the ghosts, and the radioactive residue of racism as they are to be found in our discourse about race today. I submit to you that people like us can find, if only we are honest with ourselves, those traces of historical racism in our jokes, our complaints, and our resentments. Come, let us find them in some untimely meditations on an ideal world.

In an ideal world, ethnic and racial jokes should be a form of bonding between the races. Laughter directed at ourselves is truly the best medicine. Unfortunately, the history of white laughter at the expense of black people is inseparable from a history of bitter tears, torn flesh, and spilled blood. Lest we forget, those were black tears wrenched, black flesh torn, and black blood spilled by White injustices, bull whips, and shotguns. Funny stuff.

In an ideal world, we should be able to expect that legal correctives to a history of systematic Racism will simply do their work, quickly run their course, and wither away like the Leninist state. However, since we Whites were never on the receiving end of that 400 year history of Racist oppression, we really don’t get to determine when “enough is enough” on the road to racial redemption. When Whites start to assert their rights before the historical backdrop of so many grievous wrongs committed against Blacks, well, we begin to look ridiculous. Maybe in 400 years we resentful Whites can have our own March from Selma to Montgomery.

In an ideal world (prepare yourself now for some extreme sarcasm and bitter irony), members of an all white college fraternity should be able to sit around their house modeled after an antebellum manor and talk about how black people are just never going to make it in this country and wouldn’t we all be happier if the blacks could maybe be paid off to board ships back to Africa. True story. That conversation actually happened. I was there and I participated in it. So were you and you did as well. Yeah, it should be obvious that an Organization for White Students is an idea whose time has come, while similar organizations for Black Students, well, they’re just racist.

Still wondering what “racism” is?

Not too long ago, we were having a text message debate about, you guessed it, the meaning of racism. I sent you a photograph of a lynched black man, taken sometime in the 1930s (a time when there was talk of “America First” and some other country across the ocean becoming “Great Again”, but I digress). There he dangled, surrounded by a lingering crowd of white rednecks, some grinning, some just looking stupid. I sent that picture to you, hoping it would sear your conscience, not because you were guilty of that evil act, but simply because history is always present. I thought, given your obsession with ghosts, this ghost of Racism past, present, and future would touch your soul. On receiving the photograph, you responded: “Give me a break. When is the last time anyone hung a [racist obscenity deleted] from a tree?”

What is racism? I think you’ve already answered your own question.

Gone to the Dogs


… the stars glitter he whistles his dogs up
he whistles his Jews out and orders a grave to be dug in the earth …

~ Paul Celan, Todesfugue

This is an attempt to demonstrate the racist and xenophobic nature of the dog whistle ad tweeted by the demagogue Trump in the days leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. As if it really needs explaining.

Here’s a screenshot from the beginning of the ad:


Here we are introduced to “ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT, LUIS BRACAMONTES” who “KILLED OUR PEOPLE!” That’s apparently all we need to know about this guy: He’s an illegal immigrant and he killed American citizens.

Factually true? Yes. But something more is communicated here than the plain facts. The psycho killer’s status as an illegal immigrant is headlined. The announcement that he’s a killer of Americans is SHOUTED in all caps. Thus the idea is forcibly planted in the emotive region of the viewer’s brain that ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS KILL AMERICANS.

Later in the ad we are presented with this image:

photo (1)

What is this? Oh my God it’s a horde of ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS and they’re coming to KILL OUR PEOPLE!!

But wait! They’re not illegal immigrants. They’re a large group of migrants and refugees loosely organized in a caravan headed toward the US southern border. Last I checked, it’s not a crime to be part of a caravan of migrants and refugees trekking across Mexico toward America. But the creators of this ad don’t seem to care about that fact. Their use of facts is very selective. They select the facts that build their narrative, while slipping in fictions to heighten the (ugly) emotional effect. That’s how propaganda works. In this case, it’s racist propaganda, whose xenophobic aim is to make susceptible Trump-loving rednecks fear and hate ALL illegal immigrants. It’s dog whistle propaganda at its worst. The racism is coded in highly selected words and images that leave a deep imprint on impressionable minds.

It’s poison for the brain and it’s evil.

Salt of the Earth


Salt of the earth?

You trample
the migrant you

season the hate-
monger’s speech

with your votes


bitter coals
of the tribal fire
on your tongues

all that’s left
of your savor

© 2018 David A. Welch

Face Value


Refugee_Central America

The Face with which the Other turns to me is not absorbed in a representation of her face.*

To hear her destitution, which cries out for justice, is not to represent an image [of the destitute person] to myself. It is to posit myself as responsible, both as more and as less than the human being who presents herself in the Face.

Less, for the Face summons me to my obligations and judges me. The human being who presents herself in the Face comes from a dimension of height, a dimension of transcendence whereby she can present herself as a stranger without opposing me as obstacle or enemy.

More, for my position as an ethical subject consists in being able to respond — finding resources within myself — to this destitution of the Other.

The Other who commands me in her transcendence is thus the stranger, the widow, and the orphan, to whom I am obligated.

~ Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity

*Such as the photographic image posted on this page.

Ecce homo


Refugees fence

Their first act when they enter our country is to break the law.

~ Herr Drumpf

For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, namely, ‘He was counted among the wicked’.

~ Luke 22:37

You know, the wicked. Transgressors, law-breakers, people who cross borders outside the approved points of entry. People who are hated by the righteous. Those are his people. Now, if we want to say he was only pretending to be counted among the wicked to prove a theological point, then we must question our belief in his absolute solidarity with the very least. If we question that, then we must question our “personal relationship” with him. The whole structure becomes a house of cards.