Today we remember the Declaration of Independence, whose most famous sentence holds as much relevance and glows with the same golden ideals as it did when America’s foundational document was adopted 243 years ago.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Surely our founders, if they were alive and visited the U.S.-Mexico border, would bear witness to unalienable rights being thwarted and the pursuit of happiness cut short. They’d see a human-rights debacle heightened by a president whose disdain for brown-skinned immigrants from “s***hole countries” is well known.
If they were alive and visiting Tacoma, they’d see the reluctant host city for the Northwest Detention Center, a monument to hardships caused to migrant families coping with indefinite separation from a father or mother. They’d observe the dark shadow of deportation for crimes big and small.
The immigration crisis continues to fuel public outrage at the Trump administration, as record numbers of asylum seekers try to enter the U.S. More than 7,500 people are currently held in makeshift camps at the border.
Lawyers and members of Congress have reported as many as 250 migrant children living in wretched conditions in South Texas. This week auditors from Trump’s Homeland Security Department released photos of desperate detainees in overcrowded facilities, with one senior official calling the situation a “ticking time bomb.”
Against this backdrop, a federal judge in Seattle this week brought a measure of decency and mercy, issuing a decision that should serve as a rebuke to the White House’s anti-immigrant mania.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled Tuesday that thousands of asylum seekers taken into custody after crossing the border should not be denied bond hearings, as Attorney General William Barr has proposed to do.
How timely that her decision came shortly before the July 4 holiday. Listen closely to the judge’s words, and it’s easy to hear a sweet-sounding undertone from the Declaration of Independence.
“The Court finds that Plaintiffs have established a constitutionally-protected interest in their liberty, a right to due process which includes a hearing before a neutral decisionmaker to assess the necessity of their detention, and a likelihood of success on the merits of that issue,” Pechman wrote.
Granted, our founding document adopted by the Second Continental Congress doesn’t dwell on the subject of immigration. But near the top of the lengthy list of grievances against King George III, Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots called out the monarch for “obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners” as well as “refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.”
The founders saw the best in prospective Americans yearning to breathe free; the Trump administration sees the worst. Barr has argued that detention facilities are filled with frauds trying to exploit the U.S. immigration system. But the rule of law dictates that a judge must decide who is and isn’t worthy of asylum.
America may not have the same existential need to encourage the “population of these States” as it did in 1776. But we still need immigrants of all backgrounds and skill levels to enhance our culture and sustain our economy, from agriculture to high-tech industry. We still respect the innate human drive for freedom and opportunity inscribed at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty.
The White House will certainly appeal Pechman’s ruling, which is regrettable. It’s not unreasonable for asylum seekers to expect a bond hearing within seven days of a request, as the judge ruled, as long as they show a credible threat of persecution or torture if returned to their home country.
But at least on this Independence Day, it’s refreshing to hear a self-evident truth of American democracy ring out with a present-day Jeffersonian spirit.