News with Nuance: May 12, 2023
Your Friday dose of News with Nuance: the week's biggest stories, unpacked + more ..
Hi Readers + Welcome to New Subscribers,
This Friday newsletter is always difficult to put together, but also I consider it to be arguably the most important work I do each week, searching through the ever-swirling news cycle to bring some nuance, focus, context, and truth to understanding the myriad headlines we all encounter each week - in addition to a weekly session/definition on Christian Nationalism and how it’s playing out in our world this week.
Today’s newsletter was no different, as I sat and painstakingly combed through the headlines of the past week and what I thought was most important to share with you. Throughout this work, I have tried to stay true to a few things: first, combating the dehumanization of a modern society steeped in technological distance and a bloodless capitalism that brings profit out of the destruction of human lives. I also consistently try to talk about the challenge faced by modern media of sticking to the truth with integrity, while operating in a media landscape filled with executives and prominent media figures prioritizing clicks and outrage over information-sharing (see: Wednesday night’s disastrous Trump Town Hall on formerly respectable cable news network CNN). In the midst of news stories that can feel overwhelmingly bleak, I always try to introduce you to the people and writers/reporters who give me hope. Thankfully, every week brings me plenty of these stories as well.
This work is so important to me - and I’m grateful it’s important to you, too. To receive this full newsletter in your inbox each Friday, please consider a paid subscription today if you haven’t already.is just two subscribers away from an important milestone on Substack that will help us reach more people and help me add more features to this community experience. A huge thanks, as always, to all of you who have taken time to read, contribute, subscribe, and send me messages. This community means the world to me!
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Let’s get to the news … with nuance …
Photo by Gary Coronado, Los Angeles Times
I put these two stories next to each other because they offer two diverging perspectives on what’s to come as President Joe Biden (finally) lifts the COVID-era immigration and asylum rule known as Title 42. This restriction, enacted in the early days of the pandemic, allowed U.S. immigration authorities to immediately expel migrants who were coming from countries where communicable disease was present (read: everywhere). This policy has led to more than 2.8 million migrants being immediately expelled since Title 42 was enacted, regardless of their claims for asylum.
As a result of their expulsions, migrants have suffered greatly. They’ve faced violence, kidnapping, rape, and torture in large numbers, and almost all of them have faced hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
The first headline I shared, from the L.A. Times, tells the stories of migrant families who are awaiting the end of Title 42 in crowded border town migrant shelters, most of which are already full. The article also shares stories of migrants who waited for days, detained between border fences, to be processed into the U.S. - or to be immediately expelled. One 30-year-old Venezuelan father said the delay had seen him separated from his wife, after being robbed of his cellphone and other possessions.
Most of the people waiting to immigrate faced clear danger and certain poverty back home, including threats from armed gangs and unstable political situations. Many of them already had family in the U.S., and they were eager to work once arriving.
The second headline tells the story from another perspective, largely that of law enforcement officials in U.S. border towns, who have taken it upon themselves to virtually act as an arm of the Border Patrol, tracking down, chasing, and (illegally) returning migrants back across the border. The law enforcement offices are full of Trump merchandise, even a life-size cutout, and right-wing slogans. Officials speak of their fear of an “invasion” and make unsubstantiated claims of migrants being smuggled into sex trafficking. (Notably, for our Christian Nationalism section, the offices also contained prominently placed Bibles). One officer was quoted as saying, “Undocumented aliens emit a distinct odor due to sweat and being exposed to the environment.”
It’s important to acknowledge the climate in which this rhetoric is being spouted. Just last Saturday, May 6, a gunman with Nazi tattoos and a history of white supremacist postings entered a mall outside Dallas and shot and killed nine people, including three children. Closer to the border, on May 7 in Brownsville, Texas, eight migrants were killed and 10 injured when an SUV smashed into an area frequented by migrants and asylum seekers, next to a migrant shelter. At least one witness claimed that the driver shouted “F*** migrants,” while driving, though the motive is still inconclusive.
It’s virtually impossible to wade into the immigration debate in America and come out with absolute certainty and conviction. Certainly border residents have real concern about the impact of migrants on their communities. And it’s tough to draw a straight line from violent right-wing rhetoric to migrant deaths, at least one provable in a court of law or even public opinion.
But what’s simple for me, as a Christian, is to look directly to the Bible, and to Jesus’ imperative, on multiple accounts, from the Parable of the Good Samaritan to his reminder that God dwells in all those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, and in need of care, (Matthew 25:31-46). The Hebrew Bible is maybe even more direct in its command to treat “the alien among you” as a resident of your own land:
“Lev. 19:33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Maybe it’s easier for me, living in a state bordering Canada and not Mexico, to suggest that America should stay true to its founding principles of welcoming “all huddled masses, yearning to be free.” But at a basic, human level, I cannot see the utility of heartlessly turning away those who merely seek to live, work, thrive, and love in America.
I see all around me incredibly hard-working immigrants and non-native-born Americans who are often filling the service, construction, and healthcare jobs that companies otherwise have a hard time filling. Throughout American history, recent immigrants are those who have vitalized and sustained the energy and greatness of America. It makes no sense to turn away now from that legacy, if only because today’s recent immigrants no longer predominately come from Europe - and even as I write this, I know that America’s history on immigration has always been exclusionary and discriminatory to non-white Americans. (And by the way, unless you are an Indigenous American - we are all immigrants to this land).
For more on Christian Nationalism and the border and immigration, read my book, Red State Christians, with a chapter from the time I spent in El Paso, Texas, and in Juarez, Mexico, focusing on Christianity and the border.
To support the work of one church who is doing vital ministry on the border, please consider donating to Iglesia Luterana Cristo Rey in El Paso. I met Pastor Rose Mary Guzman during my time in El Paso, and she is one of the most courageous and determined ministers I have ever met.
The county declared a border disaster in April 2021. At a news conference a few months later, (Sheriff Brad) Coe warned of an invasion of “thousands of illegal aliens.” State and federal money came swiftly. The sheriff bought five vehicles, and the county hired more than two dozen support staff to help process the sudden rise in arrests. The county has also raised about $22,000 in donations through a Christian crowdfunding site.
Story by Arelis R. Hernandez, Washington Post
Story by Andrea Castillo, Hamed Aleaziz, Patrick J. McDonnell, and Kate Morrissey, Los Angeles Times
The Headline: The Crotchgrabber
I didn’t watch Trump’s CNN town hall, and I kind of tried not to read about it either, but one news item stuck with me.
I kept reading that the (Republican, mostly Trump-supporting) audience at the town hall repeatedly laughed when Trump’s recent court case was brought up, in which he was found liable for sexual abuse of E. Jean. Carroll.
Sometimes laughter is even crueler than meanness, isn’t it? Laughter shames and diminishes and dehumanizes in a way almost nothing else can. It takes something that’s meant to be joyful and contagious, in a good way, and turns it into something menacing and threatening. Your pain is so insignificant to us, it’s laughable, is what the crowd seemed to say to women and people across America who have been victims of sexual abuse, in one way or another.
That’s why I found Mary Karr’s article for the New Yorker on a “shockingly casual case of sexual assault” so compelling and important this week. In a culture where abuse of women has been utterly normalized and excused for years, it’s easy to dismiss victims’ pain. But the cost of dismissing that pain has left a legacy of wounded people, whose lives have been changed irreparably, from PTSD to, as for E. Jean Carroll, a lifelong difficulty with intimate relationships.