When You Are a Hammer, All You See Are Nails

When you’re a hammer, everything you see is a nail. A proverb more true today than it ever was. There’s a tendency in America, especially in American politics that exemplifies, epitomizes, is a graphic representation of this government-by-hammer philosophy. I want to look at this as it relates to immigration, abortion and public benefits.

First, I want to share an experience that opened my eyes to the fact that I was subconsciously using my American hammer philosophy, even in something perfectly innocuous. I was sitting at a family dinner next to my brother’s wife who is Chinese. I spotted an ant crawl up on top of the dinner table. I raised my clenched fist high in the air, ready to come down on that ant like a ton of bricks (like a hammer). Yet, before I could “drop the hammer” my brother’s wife snuck an index finger in and both gently and quickly killed the ant before I could. There was no scene, no discussion, no crashing of plates and silverware. The problem was dealt with in appropriate measure. My crashing fist was far too extreme of a solution to the scale of the problem.

I realized I was looking at things as nails.

Our government does the same thing.

Immigration

Undoubtedly, there are some criminals crossing the border and committing crimes in this country. Undoubtedly, some are coming from overseas with aims at committing crimes. However, they account for a small minority both of crimes in this country and a small minority among immigrants, even undocumented immigrants. Both first and second generation immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans, according to a 2013 story by the Pew Research Center.Undocumented immigrants comprise about 11 million of the 40 million immigrants studied in 2011. In a 2015 story in USA Today, the statistics from the US Sentencing Commission highlight that while illegal immigrants comprise just 3.5% of the population, they represented 7% of federal prison sentences following convictions on charges of sexual abuse, 9% of murders, 12% of assaults and 30% of kidnappings in 2013. That’s alarming and it’s proof that violent crimes are committed by illegal immigrants. However, it also points out that undocumented immigrants accounted for 9.2% of federal murder convictions in 2013, but that represents a grand total of eight murder cases. When you consider that the FBI estimates there were 14,196 murders in the U.S. in 2013, those few cases handled by the federal court system don’t quite register as a reliable sample set.

I agree that we need to keep violent criminals out of the country and deport them if they indeed commit crimes, but we are treating the illegal immigration problem with a hammer instead of a scalpel. The current administration has already tried to put a travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries. One of the administration’s goals is to build a $20-billion wall on the border with Mexico. It seems heavy-handed to try to cut off all immigration to weed out a few bad apples. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I have all the answers but I think our response should be measured by the extent of the problem.

Sure people have come to this country from predominantly Muslim countries, looking to do us harm. So our response is to ban all people from those countries? Again, seems awfully heavy-handed and it blocks a vast majority of decent people from seeing their families or moving here.

If a mosquito lands on your crotch…

Or if an ant crawls across your dining room table…

Abortion

No one likes abortions. I’m sure even pro choice advocates don’t enjoy the idea of fetuses being aborted, but let’s face it, it’s a reality that we have to deal with. I liken it to the war on drugs. The war on drugs has failed miserably in the last few decades. The drugs are still here. Minor offenders see their lives and their families’ lives ruined. Crack downs only drive it further underground, where it’s more dangerous. The same applies to abortions. If we outlaw abortions in this country (which would mean overturning a federal court case’s precedent), do we really think abortions will suddenly go away? No, it will just drive them further underground where potentially ill-equipped and undertrained people will perform them. Is that what we want? Surely, that scenario is even more dangerous to the mother?

The reality is, abortions have declined in recent years. In fact, since Roe vs Wade in 1973, the number of abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 has fallen from 16.3 to 14.6, a 40-year low.

We need to address abortion in this country with that in mind and not with this hammer approach we are currently trying. We need to approach it as a health problem and not a crime problem.

I’m not trying to excuse it in general but if we approached women with compassion and gave them some choices, instead of condemning and insulting them, I think we could continue the decline of the rate of abortions in this country. Isn’t that what we all want in the end? Now, everyone has that story about their disreputable, oftentimes fictional person who gets abortion after abortion every time they get knocked up. Sure, but we understand that is the exception and not the norm, right? So why punish every other woman that has to face that life-changing decision? Again, it’s killing that mosquito with a sledgehammer. Again, it’s a case of the few ruining it for the many. Can’t we take a more precise approach?

I saw a good Facebook meme that said something to the extent of, why is it a double homicide if someone murders a pregnant woman? A very good question. Then I saw another one that basically said, if someone were holding a baby and a fetus and they were going to drop one of them, which would you choose? I have found that people arguing for the rights of a fetus are oftentimes calloused toward children that are already born but are from a war-torn country. The United States and its allies drop bombs in countries all over the world. Right now in Yemen and even still in Syria, innocent children are being killed by bombs we drop. If you’re for the whole “sanctity of life” thing, how can you be ok with our indiscriminate bombing campaigns and ones we support through “allies”? I don’t see how you can have it both ways. Are children in Yemen or Syria somehow less human than an American fetus? 

This leads perfectly into my final topic

Public Benefits

And again, we have this fictional character, the Welfare Queen who abuses public benefits. Don’t get me wrong, there are people on public benefits that abuse them. No doubt about it. But is our solution to the problem dropping the hammer on every person on public benefits?

Many people have a personal story about someone they know abusing public benefits. Report them! The DCF even offers rewards for people that help them root out public assistance fraud. The DCF needs more oversight. They need more employees. Rather than cut funding, which will make the DCF less able to detect fraud, let’s increase their budget so that they can find these people and boot them off. Turning everyone on public benefits out into the cold is not humanitarian, it’s not American and it’s certainly not the Christian thing to do.

Matthew 25:40

“Truly, I say unto you, as you did to one of the least of these my brothers, you did to me.”

Oh, and the drug testing. Do people on public benefits sell their food stamps to buy drugs? Yes. I’m certain of it. Is it deplorable? Absolutely. Does that mean that everyone does it? Certainly not. So why drop the hammer on those people struggling the most because a few of them game the system? Let’s find the perpetrators and penalize them. It’s hard to speculate what the state and federal government would save if they got these people gaming the system off the rolls but I have to imagine it would be quite a windfall, perhaps enough to warrant the increase in staff and oversight.

Let’s face it. Drug testing welfare recipients is a direct violation of the 4th Amendment. In 2003, Michigan’s drug testing program was struck down as a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches without reasonable cause. More recently, in 2013, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Florida District court’s 2011 injunction halting mandatory drug testing of state TANF applicants. Wonder what the results from Florida’s failed drug testing experiment was? During the four months of Florida’s mandatory drug testing program, only 2.6 percent of applicants (108 out of 4,086), failed the drug test, with an additional 40 people canceling their applications.

Furthermore, what about the welfare recipients’ families? Sure, the mom or the dad has a drug problem. They sell their benefits for drugs. What about their children? Are they complicit? Should they be punished?

It all comes back to this one-size-fits-all/hammer-smash philosophy that frankly, we need to change.