Former president Barack Obama weighed in on the border crisis Wednesday, June 20, with a Facebook post asking people to imagine themselves in migrants' circumstances. Barack Obama's World Refugee Day post is a big reality check on immigration policies. Given the current climate on refugees seeking asylum in the United States, many people tuned in to Obama's words with heated interest.
World Refugee Day is an international event designed to draw attention to the global refugee crisis — one that lines up with a controversial and cruel "zero tolerance" policy of the Trump administration that has resulted in the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a tone-deaf statement acknowledging the day.)
Obama, who has yet to explicitly address the emerging border crisis and the Trump administration's chaotic handling of it, took the occasion to tap into people's empathy. He wrote on Facebook,
If you've been fortunate enough to have been born in America, imagine for a moment if circumstance had placed you somewhere else. Imagine if you'd been born in a country where you grew up fearing for your life, and eventually the lives of your children. A place where you finally found yourself so desperate to flee persecution, violence, and suffering that you'd be willing to travel thousands of miles under cover of darkness, enduring dangerous conditions, propelled forward by that very human impulse to create for our kids a better life.
Unlike the Obama administration, the Trump administration is treating all people who have illegally crossed the border as criminals — even if they make an asylum claim and whether or not they have their children in tow. As The New York Times reported, presidents George W. Bush and Obama found the idea of crying children torn from their parents’ arms too inhumane and too politically damaging — though they did attempt to crack down on illegal immigration in other ways.
The Obama policy made exceptions for families crossing the border with children to avoid separating them. According to figures obtained by The Washington Post, only about 21 percent of cases between 2010 and 2016 were referred for federal prosecution. (Per CNN: Under both Obama and his predecessor President George W. Bush, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were prosecuted via Operation Streamline, though as PolitiFact reports, most parents traveling with children were exempted.)
Obama continued to dig into the current horror Americans who have been following the border crisis are witnessing — and the horror that migrants are living. He wrote, "to watch those families broken apart in real time puts to us a very simple question: are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms, or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together? Do we look away, or do we choose to see something of ourselves and our children?"
He continues to stress compassion — without invoking the specifics of the Trump policies or Department of Homeland Security's shortcomings, almost like he's speaking to the Americans among us who don't see a problem with tearing families apart. His post continues,
Whether our families crossed the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we’re only here because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, how our last names sound, or the way we worship. To be an American is to have a shared commitment to an ideal — that all of us are created equal, and all of us deserve the chance to become something better.
That’s the legacy our parents and grandparents and generations before created for us, and it’s something we have to protect for the generations to come. But we have to do more than say 'this isn’t who we are.' We have to prove it — through our policies, our laws, our actions, and our votes.
Former first lady Michelle Obama signal-boosted another former first lady on Twitter regarding the migrant crisis — retweeting Laura Bush's critical op-ed of the Trump administration's policy (which Barack also retweeted, but his Facebook post is the first commentary in his own words).
It's heartbreaking to watch families being ripped apart, but there's also a solemnness to having the Obamas weigh in on all of this. The man who was so recently in power — flawed for sure in his own ways — but who at least understood why being empathetic and humane is so important in this delicate situation.