Art project by an immigrant child detained at the Tornillo tent city Tornillo, Texas, December 2018, shortly before the facility was closed. Photograph by Justin Hamel.
Why did Pharaoh hate and fear the Israelites so much?
A clue may be found in what the Israelites were forced to build in Egypt: not pyramids, or sacred tombs for the Pharaohs, but arei miskenot (Exodus 1:11), understood as either “garrison-cities” or “granary-cities.” The latter interpretation (following II Chronicles 32:28) echoes an earlier story, in Genesis, about how Joseph saved Egypt from a devastating famine by stockpiling and then rationing food.
The Torah says that a new Pharaoh arose who “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). According to the medieval commentator Rashi, it was not that he actually had never heard of Joseph. Rather, he was a xenophobe who could not stand the knowledge that mighty Egypt could have been brought to its knees by famine and then saved by a foreigner. So he decreed a massive building project, to protect Egypt from ever being vulnerable again, and he carried it out on the backs of Joseph’s descendants — pretending that he didn’t know that their ancestor had saved all of Egypt.
A similar building project has been carried out by both American political parties — the construction of fencing and walls on the U.S. Mexico border — to the devastation of border communities and immigrants throughout the U.S. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, from 2007-2018 the U.S. spent $9.7 billion on border barriers, almost exclusively on the Mexican border. The fear that immigration threatens America — its economy, security, and very identity — has been used to justify these draconian and wasteful policies.
Here’s what we know about border security and immigration:
1. “Constructing a border wall has not been empirically shown to deter undocumented migration; instead, it displaces crossing methods and increases the use and cost of smugglers. This is dangerous because smugglers have been known to physically and sexually abuse undocumented migrants and even engage in human trafficking.”
- Anti-trafficking expert Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco
2. Many people coming to the U.S. “illegally” are actually following the rules for seeking asylum, which is a legal process meant to offer protection to those escaping persecution or threats to their lives. New policies enacted since 2017 have made it increasingly difficult to request asylum, prompting journalist and historian Jelani Cobb to note, “The era of America as a country of asylum is over.”
3. In July 2017, the State Department said there was “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.”
4. Most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. did not cross the border between official ports of entry; rather, they entered the country with a visa and then overstayed.
Pharaoh’s fear remains with our country today.
• What past moment(s) of vulnerability do you think the US is grappling with when rhetoric around “securing our borders” ramps up?
• Whom do you think is blamed?
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