By Angelica Salas, Cal Wellness board member, and Lawrence Benito. This piece was first published in The Hill.
What would drive you to leave your home with little more than the clothes on your back?
If you live in a country riddled with violence and virtually no opportunity, leaving your homeland and your family may be the best option. Stay, and you have a bleak future, rife with unrelenting violence, organized crime and street gangs. You'll live under a corrupt and unstable government, facing raging unemployment and staggering poverty.
Leave, and you have at least a glimmer of a better life.
A little over a week ago, a group of about 100 people weighed the cost of staying in a country that made it near impossible to imagine a future. With no real hope at home, they gathered whatever could fit in their backpacks and set off from San Pedro Sula, Honduras in search of a better life. Along the way, the ranks of desperate but hopeful travelers swelled to nearly reportedly more than 7,000 men, women and children.
They left everything behind, relying on the kindness of strangers along the roadside to give them bottles of water and enough food to sustain them on their long, harrowing trek. For one young father, that kindness came in the form of a used baby stroller, a gift to relieve his aching arms from carrying his infant child, mile after mile.
Because that’s what we do as human beings. We see someone in need and we help. At least that’s what we were taught. The Golden Rule. We memorized it in grade school, reciting it in a sing-songy voice: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The Golden Rule is not just a guide, it’s indelibly engraved on the Statue of Liberty, the beacon of hope for millions of desperate immigrants who have endured so much on their journey to America. This principle should be the foundation for how we treat everyone, regardless of where they’re from, what their struggles are, or the depths of their need. In fact, it should encourage us to show even more compassion and empathy for them.
And yet this current humanitarian crisis threatens the core of who we are as individuals and who we are as a nation.
As certain politicians from their White House perch look south at the border, they see a threat to their political power. They want to wipe out that threat with nasty rhetoric and even nastier laws. They see a political opportunity to play on voter’s fears and divide us against each other right in time for the midterm elections.
But when most of us look south at the border, we see a promise. A promise that is not only codified in The Golden Rule, but also in our laws.
We already have a stringent process for immigrants who want to come to our country. And that process should be followed and reformed, not thwarted because of politicians who have discarded compassion in favor of a culture of fear and distrust and racially charged rhetoric.
Some politicians are willing to sacrifice our nation’s humanity in pursuit of victory at the ballot box. This is a sad commentary on where America is on its journey. We deserve better leaders; leaders who understand we are human beings before we are Republicans or Democrats.
The Golden Rule was the best credo to follow when we were young, but it holds even more meaning today as the guiding light that shines the way for immigrants — and our nation — to seek a brighter future.