Texas, my Texas. What Has Become of You?

Despite having been born and raised in the Lone Star State, and spending all of my 53 years here, I still can’t explain the whole Texas mystique.

Growing up here, I knew from an early age that there was just something special about being a Texan. I don’t know how I knew this. But I did.

Perhaps it’s the size of this state that fuels the sense of pride in those of us who are native-born. Texas is enormous, wide-open, diverse, and majestic. We Texans are proud of our birthright, but not too proud to be friendly and welcoming to those guests, visitors, and transplants who didn’t have the good fortune to be born here.

At least, that’s what I used to think about this state that I love. Lately, though, I’m seeing my fellow Texans in an unfavorable light. These are people that I just don’t recognize. And what I’m seeing has begun to sicken me.

As you probably know, there is currently a huge humanitarian crisis along the southern border of the U.S. Turn on any news channel, open your local paper, or google “refugee children” and you’ll find plenty of information about it. There is an ongoing influx of unaccompanied children, most from Central America, who are flooding into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. They are seeking shelter, safety, and asylum from what is, by most accounts, unspeakable danger and violence in their own countries, Guatemala and Honduras in particular.

And here, in the state that I love, and have called home for my whole life, there are many of my fellow Texans who are greeting those children with angry, hateful taunts and signs, yelling for these children, alone and far from their homes, to go away.

I can’t say that these callous and cold-hearted displays are a complete surprise. After all, Texas is also the home of a Republican Party, whose 2014 state platform includes a measure that endorses “reparative therapy” for homosexuals. Not that the Texas GOP wants to force this therapy on anyone, you understand; they just want everyone to know that they support it for its “legitimacy and efficacy”, according to a recent article in the Texas Tribune. (For the record, reparative therapy for gays and lesbians has been proven neither legitimate nor effective. It’s just bullshit spouted by those folks who can’t accept the notion that not everyone on the planet is straight.)

Also, in the last year, the Texas legislature has done all it can to limit a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. And let’s not forget the whole Open Carry movement, which is spectacularly alive and well here in the Lone Star State. We love our guns! So much, in fact, that many of us don’t feel safe buying a cup of coffee or a burrito without slinging a long arm over our shoulder.

I mention these things just to clarify that, as much as I love Texas, I am not blind to the fact that it’s no longer the friendly and welcoming place that it used to be. Sad but true. The times, they are a changin’.

But this crisis on the border? Well, for me, it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

These refugees, this latest wave of immigrants who have sought solace and safety here in our state? Most of them are children. Children! Some as young as seven or eight. Traveling without the protection and comfort of a parent, making a harrowing trip with people they don’t know, hungry, tired, dirty, and if I had to guess, terrified by their own circumstances. They’ve come here because they are no longer safe in their own homes. Imagine making a journey like this, only to be greeted by adults screaming at you and telling you you’re not welcome.

My knowledge of immigration policy is inadequate to argue how this problem has become so epic. Pick any administration from the last 20 years and chances are, one president or another has had a hand in the situation. Blame President Bush, or blame President Obama. It really doesn’t matter. Pointing fingers and placing blame does absolutely nothing to solve the situation at hand.

The fact is, these children are here, and their immediate needs must be addressed, regardless of who did what about immigration. When you drive up to your house and see flames and smoke billowing from the roof, that’s not really the time to argue with your spouse and your kids about who might have left a candle burning or an iron plugged in. Shouldn’t you just call the fire department?

Believe me, I’ve heard all the arguments and concerns about these refugee children: “They’re gang members!” “They’re carrying diseases!” “They just want our jobs!” “We need to help our OWN first!”

I don’t know if any of these kids are in gangs or not. From what I’ve read, many of them are fleeing their homes in order to escape from gangs. Are they carrying disease? I’m sure many of them have contracted respiratory infections and scabies, those ailments which are prevalent among people who live in close quarters for extended periods, including many homeless people right here in the U.S.

But are you really fearful about catching something from one of these refugees? Don’t be. These kids are NOT carrying ebola, no matter what Fox News or talk radio try to tell you. You might want to worry about what the kids down the block might be spreading, seeing as it’s now become fashionable NOT to vaccinate children for diseases like measles and pertussis, things we had previously succeeded in controlling.

“They just want our jobs!”

Seriously? They’re kids! They’re not here to steal anyone’s job! They just want to be safe and sleep soundly every night. More scare tactics and propaganda. Don’t buy in to it.

“We need to help our OWN first.”

At last! Something we should all agree on.

There is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in this country, and we need to fix that. Let’s create jobs. Let’s increase the minimum wage. Let’s make sure kids in our country have food to eat and a roof over their heads. But while we’re doing all those things, let’s help these children who have sought our borders in desperation. There’s enough to go around.

Maybe you don’t want to see your tax dollars go to help these children. Fine. I’ll make you a deal.

I’ll put all of my tax dollars toward this issue, and other social issues, and you can direct yours toward subsidies to Big Business and corporate welfare. Maybe it will trickle down one day. I won’t be holding my breath, but you’re free to hold yours.

I guess my point in all of this is to say that, in protesting these children, in voicing our anger and opposition to their asylum within our borders, we are losing something far more important than our tax dollars. We are losing our humanity.

I ask you this, not just as a Texan, but as an American:

What has happened to our compassion? What have we become when we refuse to help a child?

What if one of these children was your child? What if the tables were turned, and you feared for your child’s future; indeed, for his very life? If you were so desperate that you sent him off on a dangerous journey alone, knowing that he might not survive, but that he would surely perish if he stayed with you, wouldn’t you hope and pray that someone on the other side would offer him shelter and safety?

It’s hard for most of us to imagine. We take our freedom, and our safety, for granted. We can sympathize (or not), but we can’t truly understand. These children, and the families they’ve left behind, have lived through horrors we can’t imagine, sitting in the safety of our homes. And we’ve seen them before, these refugees. From Bosnia. From Cuba. From Eastern Europe.

Lest you think my faith in humanity, or in Texas, has been lost, fear not! Next Saturday, I’ll be heading to the other side of the Metroplex, to help sort and pack donated items to be distributed to the 2,000 or so refugee children who are expected to be sheltered in Dallas. Catholic Charities has spearheaded this effort, but others have stepped in to lend their support and assistance, including the folks I’ll be working with.

Operation Matthew 25 is a small group started just a few weeks ago by a friend of mine from the social media world. Cindy is a nurse, a mom, and a grandmother – who better to model quiet compassion in the face of controversy? She saw through all of the shouting, the politics, and the rhetoric, and chose, instead, to roll up her sleeves and help. I’m honored to be pitching in to assist her. To date, Operation Matthew 25 has raised in excess of $12,000 in donations. Not bad for a little group that’s less than a month old.

Cindy can’t fix the immigration issue, and neither can I. So instead, we will help in our own small ways. If you would like to chip in, follow this link to the Matthew 25 Amazon registry, and order anything on the lists. It will all be put to good use. Or go back to that link to Catholic Charities and make a donation.

This is an issue that matters. You can be part of the solution.