I'll tell you a story. Take it for what it's worth. I don't think it's any secret that some of my opinions aren't widely supported in this corner of the state, particularly on immigration. The issue almost always circles back to potential violence and crime among those crossing the border illegally, and my critics have asked me in the past how my opinion might change if my own child were harmed because of it. They're on the right track. We do need to consider the children.
By now, you've likely seen the photos.
Earlier this week, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez of El Salvador drown carrying his two-year-old daughter Valeria across the Rio Grande — for the second time by some accounts, because the girl tried to follow her father as he swam back for his wife. I doubt anyone can deny the tragedy depicted in the photo. It's empirically heartbreaking, heartrending and otherwise soul crushing — the young girl still tucked under the back of her father's shirt and still holding on to his neck.
Some have even called the photo dehumanizing, but I have found it to be exactly the opposite. I believe the images cause us, as a country and as the human race, to ask some very important questions of ourselves — question how our opinion might change if it were our own child. For me, that's not hard. My little girl is approximately the same age as Valeria. I know the feeling of a two-year-old's arm clinging to my neck with all her might. I know the sound of a two-year-old crying in panic and fright very well. I know the inescapable, guttural need a father feels to do all he can when that little girl needs me.
What I don't know is a danger so great or situations so dire that the most likely way to keep that two-year-old safe is by crossing a raging river with her on my back. Few of us do. We more often say immigrants shouldn't have tried, but I suggest we consider how our opinion might change if it were our child living in a country with some of the highest murder rates in the world. I can't really blame Ramirez for trying to get his family away from that situation, because there's little a father can do to resist that guttural urge to keep his family safe, even in the face of the law.
I've said time and again, legality is not the same thing as morality. That's an important aspect to remember for both those in need and those with the means to help.
Take Captain Stan Mooneyham, for example. He captained a World Vision rescue ship named Seasweep in 1979, and found a boatload of Vietnam refugees — their boat dead in the water. It's estimated half the people who attempted to escape Vietnam by boat after the war's end died at sea. The law allowed Mooneyham's ship to aid the refugees — give them provisions like fresh water — but he was not to take any of them ashore to neighboring ports, such as Hong Kong.
He took them aboard anyway.
I saw archived footage of that rescue last year, while attending the Global Leadership Summit remotely through Good News Community Church in Okoboji. One of the first to be brought aboard was an infant — again, my daughter was about the same age at the time of the summit as the baby was in the footage. As the rescued child was brought over the side, it arched it's back and cried out in just the same way my daughter did with us at home.
It was in the seeing — in that image — that I was personally spurred to action. It wasn't monumental, but my wife and I had been teetering on whether to sponsor a child through an organization called Compassion International. After seeing the footage, I couldn't help but act. We signed up as sponsors within a few days.
The photo of Ramirez and his daughter brings out similar feelings deep inside me. I don't know how or where I'm being prompted to act, but I believe this is more than simple outrage. It's a need to act. Where and how I will be lead to act, I've yet to see, but the call is clear. Hopefully, you hear it too.
Tragedy shouldn't cause us to tally the victim's mistakes and say they should have stayed home. Tragedy should cause us to question why our opinion would be different if it were our child. I'll be blunt. It shouldn't.
Every person who falls in the desert, drowns in the river or dies adrift in a boat in search of the land of the free is our brother, our sister, our grandfather, our niece.
We don't deny the tragedy. We clearly see it. Were it only that we had the character to echo Capt. Mooneyham's words, "Take them aboard."