Shining the light in the proper place

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“And I’ll be my brother’s keeper
So the whole world will know
That we’re not alone”
“Hold Us Together” — Matt Maher

The top-charting single from his 2009 “Alive Again” album for Canadian worship leader Matt Maher, “Hold Us Together” peaked at No. 6 in the United States Christian Billboard charts. The song has a very simple, easy melody that is easy to sing along with, but the message is also strong.

The lyrics discuss that love for one another may not be heralded as a quick fix for life’s problems or a major money-maker, but it is what we truly need for happiness and success in life.

As a Christian artist, Maher focuses on the example of God’s forgiving love as an example of the love that we should show one another, a love that would offer a helping hand to those in need and forgive one another to bring us together as a people.

Last week, this space addressed finding unity on one of the most divisive issues in modern America - abortion.

This week, I want to address a more general issue of division, but arguably the strongest one in modern politics - the office of the President of the United States of America, what he/she is truly “in charge” of and/or should be “blamed” for in policy.

In 2008, a major financial crisis was affecting the country. Outgoing President George W. Bush knew that the decisions he made to attempt to avoid a financial catastrophe in the final few months of his presidency would impact the next president, so he had the two nominees, Barack Obama and John McCain, present for meetings discussing plans that the President held to consider bailouts and other such issues.

Those actions would take place before Obama took the oath of office, but the effects were felt strongly during his first term, leading to plenty blaming him for those moves.

Decisions that Obama made regarding trade deals and climate policy were going to have long-term implications on the world stage for the country, and he thus was looking forward to a similar transition meeting with his successor in the office, and worked to set up meetings with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the campaign in 2016.

Those meetings were generally rebuffed by the eventual choice of the electoral college, and Trump and Obama had a few very awkward meetings, during which, the outgoing President reported that policy was very low on the talking point priorities.

This election has already seen the border, specifically the southern border, become a major issue of division for one candidate or another. Our own governor recently sent South Dakota National Guard troops to the border again, in her attempt to jump into the issue.

A bit of history on immigration…the first true “restriction” on immigration came in 1921 with the Emergency Quota Act. The National Origins Act of 1924 further restricted that, with specific quotas on certain part of the globe who could immigrate to the United States, though no limits were placed on those from other Western Hemisphere countries.

Immigration at the time of the National Origins Act was roughly 550,000 legal immigrants per year. Five years after the law was put into place, total legal immigrants reduced to roughly 300,000 per year.

Those laws stayed in place even as immigrants dropped to around 250,000 per year in post-World War II America until the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act that removed the quota system. This led to roughly 400,000 new immigrants per year until the late 1980s, when nearly 1 million legal immigrants were entering the country on an annual basis.

Laws put in place during the early 1990s under the George H.W. Bush administration focused for the first time on changing laws specifically for illegal immigrants, who now made up roughly 3.5 million people in 1990.

George W. Bush ran in 2000 on a platform that sought to expand legal immigration, especially with those in the Western Hemisphere, but 9/11 changed much of the focus of immigration policy, as the Patriot Act and multiple other acts put significant restrictions on migrant workers and other previously legal ways to enter the country without intention to immigrate. The Patriot Act included provisions which, for the first time, allowed government agents at the border to detain immigrants without a trial.

Obama continued the focus on illegal immigrants with only the first waves of Bush’s policies deporting more illegal immigrants on an annual basis during Obama’s administration, which averaged 155,000-plus deportations per year.

Campaigning on strict border policies, President Trump added in multiple new laws set at detaining and targeting illegal immigrants at the border, though his administration only removed roughly 60% of the total that Obama was deporting during his administration, with Trump averaging 81,000-plus deportations during his administration.

Trump also significantly decreased legal immigration in his final year in office, utilizing the COVID-19 pandemic to issue executive orders to reduce green cards to fewer than 10% of the amount that had been issued when he took office in 2016.
Biden, during his time in office, has rolled back some restrictions on green cards and refugees allowed into the country, but in large part has left other Trump-era orders in place. The major issue in current immigration policy is the fragmentation of the policy, with executive orders from Trump, laws still in place from the 1960s and 1980s, and post-9/11 laws often presenting conflicting opportunities for legal immigration into the country.

That confusion, more than any one policy put in place by any particular president has led to the issues at the southern border today. The culmination of various small changes, which did not focus on encouraging a coherent system that serves all potential immigrants, has led to a system that encourages refugees and potential legal immigrants, but also prevents them attaining legal status.

A truly all-encompassing system would likely require an act of Congress, but attempting to get the fragmented parties in D.C. to agree on anything is a challenge, let alone something that can score potential political points in an election year.

Each acting President needs to stand on the work done by the previous administrations, and blaming the one in office for current issues — regardless of which party is in office — simply misses the mark.

As a sidebar, I’ve heard many this year complaining about a significant reduction in their tax return or a notable rise in the amount of income tax that they need to pay in and wanting to blame the current president for that. However, it’s only going to get worse under the provisions of the 2017 “tax break” law that was passed and widely supported at the time.

Working together like Bush did with Obama and McCain to help in continuity in government is vital, just as it is in everyday life. Otherwise, the fractures become obvious in our state, our community, and even in our families.

“Love will hold us together” the Maher song declares. Loving one another in a way to hold together may be the one thing we can do to combat division.