By Rick Larsen
Published on June 19, 2018

The separation of families at the U.S. border provides a lesson that could change the trajectory of our nation and the manner in which we approach our most difficult challenges. The lesson: Some issues are impossible to address within the narrow confines of partisan politics. Rather, they require us to think – to create – to reason. In this case, the ubiquitous blame game has become undeniably immoral.

Immigration hands us, at this moment, a glimpse – shocking in many ways – into the inadequacy of rhetoric. We see before us the challenge, the opportunity and the reason to drop partisan posturing – in this case, for the sake of the children.

While recognizing immigration has very distinct liberal and conservative positions, if separating children from their parents does not open the door to nonpartisan action, what will? Anyone – on either side of the aisle – misusing emotion to bolster partisan positioning just represents more of what has become the problem with party politics. We need to think beyond existing lines.

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This may be tough to hear for some conservatives, but I view using children as a ploy to secure funding for a wall as ill-advised and not conservative at all. And to liberals: If you are leveraging the inhumanity of it all toward a disregard for border security, you are not helping either.

Liberals are not crazy to complain loudly about the moral, ethical and legal side of what is going on: It is wrong. Having said that, if you take a half-step back from emotion, we as a nation cannot ignore the need for secure borders. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was not evil – only inconclusive – to point out that in matters of criminal conduct, children do not go to jail with their parents, and that crossing the border of a sovereign nation is illegal. It is the “what’s next” that vexes us.

It is reprehensible for Republicans to claim this is somehow the fault of laws enacted by the Democrats and maintain that there is no other option than to wait for them to fix it. With a Republican majority, that is a false dichotomy, tailor-made to win – at all costs – funding for a wall by inflicting emotional harm on children.

The truth is wider than any current set of customized talking points. Here is what we know:

Secure borders are necessary for a safe and sovereign nation – period. If you abandon border enforcement, think about what that means – not just today but in years to come. Equally true: It is monstrous for the U.S. to separate families. And truer still: We cannot hold just one view or the other – we must address both.

Here is where reason comes into play: Has America passed a point where it can have borders and still be welcoming to the “huddled masses yearning to be free”?

Or, with all of the technology, history and sophistication we have available, should we refuse the narrative that this situation is impossible to fix? Otherwise we are conceding that this great nation, and its political leaders of good will, cannot come together with an immediate solution that ends this tragedy.

Let us ask those leaders: Are you prepared to state that Congress has waited too long to address this issue? Can we agree that agreement is now the only solution? Are you finally compelled to acknowledge that a bipartisan effort must address both border security and offer controlled access for immigrants?

Lest we devolve into yet another false dichotomy, this is a call for creative, humane solutions designed through principled compromise and reason. Our national insistence must be that this is not beyond our capacity as a society.

And now, elected officials of both parties – all eyes are upon you. Is it beyond your collective capacity? Is it possible for you, as our representatives, to say to us – the people who elected you and turn to you for leadership – that yes, policy matters, but principle matters more, and people matter most? Every one of us, particularly the children torn away from their families at our borders, deserves an answer.

Rick Larsen came to Sutherland with more than 30 years of experience in media, management and the nonprofit sector. He was chief development officer for United Way of Salt Lake before taking a development and communications role at Sutherland. He spent a decade in the entertainment industry creating funding and content for family films, television and events. As a consultant, he provided strategic guidance to a wide range of endeavors including ballot initiatives, gubernatorial campaigns, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations interested in more effective philanthropy.

As president of Operation Kids, he saw firsthand many of humankind’s most pressing needs. From post-Katrina New Orleans to South African refugee camps to post-tsunami Thailand, he traveled and worked between state and federal agencies as well as community organizations, and came to understand the powerful connection between principled public policy and its resulting social outcomes.

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