September 11, 2001 has become the date by which we measure our recent history. Our collective timeline is now divided by that tragic day that radically changed the course of our national narrative. As we reflect back on the decade since that watershed moment a troubling picture emerges.
In the days that followed the attack we saw an incredible light shine out of the ruble and witnessed the power of our compassion and shared humanity. However, in the fear that followed the collapse of our tranquility we were fed a lie that had us believe security could only be achieved through power, enforcement, and sealing our borders. A decade later we still allow that lie to divide and weaken our peace.
In particular, we have allowed the securitization of society to further disrupt the vulnerable immigrant communities that struggle at our sides in search of that elusive American Dream.
Only five days before the attacks, President Bush had laid out a framework for comprehensive immigration reform which included a path towards legal status for the majority of undocumented immigrants- something his Republican counterparts now decry as “amnesty” for “illegals”. Efforts to reform our unjust immigration system have not only failed in the years since 9/11 but, according to research by the Migration Policy Institute, spending on enforcement has more than doubled and deportations have increased 134%.
Having witnessed the destruction caused by the hijackers, we know that security is essential, but at what price? How much are we willing to pay for the illusion that we can be totally secure? By obsessing about those who attempt to enter into our communities to do us harm, we have forgotten to show love to those our Scripture calls the “unexpected angels” who come to help us rebuild our lives.
In a time of budget realignments, our nation must decide not only how to reduce our deficit but what to value as we walk further into this young century. As we lay out our government’s financial commitments for the next decade we are in essence making a profound and historical statement about what we will value as a people. Where we choose to spend our resources will determine the character of our civilization. Will we live in a fearful society, with a perpetually flexed military muscle, distrusting those who come to us seeking refuge? Or will we stand strong, unfazed by the cheap terror of extremists, weakening their resolve by demonstrating that our unflinching compassion is the antidote to their hate?
We must see the challenge of fixing our immigration system in this context. The hospitality we show to the stranger among us is an act of brave resistance against the forces of fearful exclusion that threaten our communities.
We cannot change the past, but we can choose how it will inform our future. Ten years ago, on a beautiful September day, our hearts were broken. We can either allow our hearts to be broken open into the communal compassion that comes with deep spiritual pain, or we can let these broken hearts collapse and be hardened by the forces of fearful exclusion that prey upon our loss.