Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: Our small-hearted, small-minded nation


Earlier this month, the Trump administration ordered 56,000 Honduran refugees out of the country no later than Nov. 4, 2019.  Those people have been living and working in the United States legally since 1998, when Hurricane Mitch devastated their homeland, killing 7,000 and leaving as many as 1.5 million people homeless.

They are not alone. In January, the administration ordered the ouster of 200,000 long-term refugees from El Salvador, who had been here since the 2001 earthquakes that flattened cities and destroyed or damaged 275,000 houses. Haitians who found refuge here after a 2010 earthquake have until July 22, 2019 to leave voluntarily or face mass deportation. Longtime refugees from Nicaragua, Sudan and Nepal are also being given the boot.

Legally, the administration has every right to take such steps.  These refugees -- more than 400,000 in total -- have been allowed to make lives here in the United States under Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian program begun in 1990. However, there are many many things that we have the legal right to do that are not right to do. This is surely one of them.

The question that I have is why? These are people who have lived here for a decade or two, who have worked here and married here and have children and grandchildren here. They have buried parents here; they have built businesses and friendships and careers here. They are law-abiding, contributing members of American society -- anyone covered by the TPS program who commits a felony or more than one misdemeanor is booted automatically.

So I ask again: What do we, as Americans, possibly gain by ordering their forcible mass deportation, a process that will cost billions of taxpayer dollars to carry out? What justifies the forced sale of homes and businesses, the large-scale human trauma of separating parent from American-born child, in some cases husband from wife, of forcing people who have built something better to return to some “shithole country,” as one man notably put it? Conditions in Haiti, for example, are not notably better today than when TPS status was first granted to those people.

Surely, if we’re going to put hundreds of thousands of our fellow human beings through all that, we must have a good reason beyond the argument that legally, we have that right. The tragedies that brought these people to us were usually so-called “acts of God,” earthquakes and hurricanes and other natural, completely impersonal calamities. But ripping them up from the homes that they’ve made here, from the communities and friendships that they’ve built over many many years-- that is a conscious act of man.

So why? The absence of a rational, logical explanation forces us to turn to the irrational, and even as I ask the question, I know the answer. You know the answer too. The answer is dark and ugly, as it must be to justify such cruelty and callousness perpetrated simply for the purpose of being cruel and callous. The forced ouster of those people does not make America great again. There is no process by which that can be true. Instead, it diminishes us. It is the act of a small-minded, small-hearted nation, and we should do all we can to ensure that too is a temporary status.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.