An article in the LA Times today – https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-11-15/asylum-officers-revolt-against-trump-policies-they-say-are-immoral-illegal – accompanied by a jointly-produced This American Life piece also made public today (https://www.thisamericanlife.org/688/the-out-crowd) – tells a powerful story.
A growing number of Asylum Officers and other ICE and Border Patrol employees are choosing to reject new orders and new agency procedures they recognize as unlawful.
Here’s the LA Times, in a piece written by Molly O’Toole, on recently resigned Asylum Agent Doug Stephens:
“It took Doug Stephens two days to decide: He wasn’t going to implement President Trump’s latest policy to restrict immigration, known as Remain in Mexico. The asylum officer wouldn’t interview any more immigrants, only to send them back across the border to face potential danger.
“As a federal employee, refusing to abide by policy probably meant that he’d be fired. But as a trained attorney, Stephens told The Times, the five interviews he’d been assigned were five too many. They were illegal.
” ‘They’re definitely immoral,’ Stephens said he told his supervisor in San Francisco. ‘And I’m not doing them.’
At this juncture in American border policy, it’s worth recalling the steps that Martin Luther King outlined for the right way to disobey an unjust law, in his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
First, a bit of context from King: “We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”
So, how to do it? King writes, “In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
I’ve had the privilege to advise the U.S. Naval Academy on the issue of responding to illegal orders, and they have taught King’s model as doctrine for Naval officers for a number of years. Faced with an illegal order, the officer must disobey it openly, making a statement to superiors something to the effect of, “This order is illegal, and therefore I will not follow it.” Next, the officer must seek to apply the notion of making the disobedience “loving,” which the Navy came to recognize as firmly identifying the disobedience as a personal act, not agitating for others to do the same, and standing aside while others might make their own personal choices to act or disobey. Finally, the officer must openly and without undue resistance accept the punishments the system might mete out.
Or, as Asylum Officer Doug Stephens chose, any agent of the government might – and I would argue, should – resign rather than do the illegal acts harmful to families, children and others that the new MPP rules demand.
More from the LA Times is here https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-11-15/asylum-officers-revolt-against-trump-policies-they-say-are-immoral-illegal
More from This American Life is here https://www.thisamericanlife.org/688/the-out-crowd