Skip to main content
Compromise with Evil

Friday, 2 August 2019

Dear Mr President,

A month ago, in a fit that was three parts compassion and one part anger, my wife Joan and I got ten small boxes from our village drugstore, filled each with a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and a toddler outfit, and shipped them off to the Border Patrol—two each to five detention centers along the border. After ten days or so, the two sent to El Paso were returned—marked “refused”. Of course, we sent them both back. And of course, the Border Patrol sent them back to us again—this time marked “refused” in heavy black ink on five sides.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

She seemed to know she was involved in something evil—something that didn’t square with her country’s ideals, her bland assurances, and perhaps her own maternal feelings.

But there was an up-side. Eight of the boxes (from four detention centers) didn’t come back. So I called the El Paso Center to find out what we had done wrong. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” soothed a nice female agent with a Hispanic name. “We just don’t take donations.” When I asked whether it was a federal law or a BP regulation or just a local policy, she admitted she didn’t know. “Every agency has that rule,” she supposed, apparently unaware that FEMA, for one, actually solicits donations.

When I suggested that it might be OK to ignore the donated-toothbrush ban since the court-mandated 72-hour limit for holding immigrants and the federal laws respecting the right of asylum had been so easily brushed aside, she began to betray her ambivalence between sympathy for kids with dirty teeth and anxiety for her agency’s dirty hands. “We’re overstocked,” she said, as if they couldn’t give away toothbrushes fast enough. Then abruptly, “Talk to Congress”.

She seemed to know she was involved in something evil—something that didn’t square with her country’s ideals, her bland assurances, and perhaps her own maternal feelings. But she has a job she wants to keep, a mortgage to pay, perhaps a toddler of her own who needs decent food and a clean bed. So for now she goes along, the way we all do sometimes. Maybe tomorrow, maybe later she will rethink her compromise with evil, the way we all sometimes do.

dan embree 300

Dan Embree

Received by the White House at 4:45 AM EST, 2 August 2019.