The Daily

City of Motherless Children

“It was like fractured pieces trying to converge — their experience today, my history — being in this place where I had been as a child,” Ina said.

I had the good fortune of growing up in South Florida in the seventies, a prehistoric era of AOR radio before the internet – when video games were barely interesting enough to keep your attention for a few minutes (Atari, Pong, Space Invaders and PacMan). Our bikes were ubiquitous within a few miles circumference around our neighborhood, extending to Lauderdale By The Sea and the shore of the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

As a part of that experience, no matter which schools I attended (public, religious, private prep) I was in close contact with immigrants. I practically lived with a Cuban family, the Serranos – two physicians who fled Castro’s Cuba with their children and required us all to speak Spanish in their home. I worked job sites with Haitian ditch diggers – some of the most dignified and honorable people I’ve ever met – who fled crushing island poverty and corruption to fully embrace the American Dream and everything that went along with it. I bussed tables in the tropical summertime at an outdoor restaurant with Mexicans whose endurance and quiet strength were a constant source of amazement. I suffered in traffic behind moronic Canadians whose tourism dollars helped us all bite our lips while we suffered their insane driving habits.

Because, as a society, we are now separating families – let’s get a little philosophical about law and morality. The Administration is claiming that they “have” to separate children from their families because of a 1996 law passed to protect against child trafficking. However, in the last twelve years, no administration has actually enforced that law in this way. The Administration argues – alternatively – that there is no separation policy, that there is a policy but it is for deterrent purposes, that the Democrats did it and that they would like to undo it even though nobody was doing it until they started. As a trial lawyer, I can tell you safely that judges hate this kind of argument.

The Los Angeles Times covered the story (before the child separation thing – and it does appear to be a thing since 10,000 children are being housed without their parents and the number is projected to reach 20,000 soon) a full two years ago. You can find their report here. In that piece, they follow a survivor (see, quote above) of the World War II Era American internment camps for Japanese. Their reporter went with this woman back to the Texas camp where she was held with her family – being used seventy years later as a detention center for Central and South American immigrants (many of whom were seeking asylum after fleeing lawless murder capitals of the world [see, Honduras and El Salvador]).

‘Is there good and evil?’. Philosophers, legal scholars and religious devotees have been asking that question since the beginning of recorded time. Is it wrong to rip children from their families? Is it lawful? Is it moral?

My Grandfather, Walter Timothy Crofton, was a staunch Irish Catholic who my Mother tells me brought a trace of black Irish horse thievery into our bloodline. So I checked in on the Rev. Cormac Burke (Opus Dei of all things) from Northern Ireland for his thoughts on the subject.

The purpose of human law is the common good more than the good of individuals (I-II, q. 96, art. 1). It is to establish a certain order, so as to protect social living. Without law, there is no society, only the jungle, the rule of might. “If there is justice, and if law is based on a discernment of what is just, dialogue can begin and benevolence can appear; so we come to what is ours in common. The first form of culture is law. Its effectiveness means that barbarism has been overcome: men have always been civilized this way.”

“Ethics or morals is the study of what we ought to do; i.e. what is the right way to act and what is the wrong. Fundamental moral concepts such as right and wrong are necessarily universal. If they are treated as relative and subjective, then they become inapplicable to the social sphere; and hence to the whole area of human law. If what is wrong to me may legitimately be right to someone else, then one may perhaps debate the opportuneness of this or that law, but not its justice. Without an interior sense of a moral order, there can be little respect for the law; for this can only come from feeling oneself bound from within to observe the law. Here we note that the almost universal modern concept of law as a system of rules created by the state – which ensures its application through a system of courts and a coercive power – leaves the law without any interior appeal or authority, except insofar as one may recognize the need for some minimum of common rules. It also exposes the individual to the tendency to regard the law as purely external imposition to be evaded, if one can, whenever it is considered personally inconvenient. The purpose of morality is to ensure the uprightness of individual conscience (the law cannot force a conscience to be upright). Yet christian morality is not individualistic; it leads one into community.” Law and Morality, Rev. Cormac Burke

The Northern Irish – they know something about man’s ‘inhumanity toward man’ and the Hobbesian notion that without a set of rules we would be constantly at each other’s throats. The Stoics, some of them at least, did not necessarily agree. And Bud Crofton was also an enormous fan of ancient Greece. In their pre-Christian philosophy, there was always a whiff of relativity from time to time and place. For them, man’s capacity for reason was the thing. Aristotle wrote that

Virtue is a disposition, or habit, involving deliberate  purpose or choice, consisting in a mean that is relative to ourselves, the mean being determined by reason, or as a prudent man would determine it.

Free will and bravery were essential elements of being a ‘good man’ or living a ‘good life’ to the Stoics. Aristotle also wrote that

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the “Tribeless, lawless, breathless one,” whom Homer denounces – the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.

Things feel increasingly lawless up in here and not of the “above humanity” variety. Whether you subscribe to a permanent and unchanging sense of right and wrong or a more relativist point of view, it seems difficult to conclude that there’s any right ever to be found in the cries of young children.