Steven S. Volk
For better, and often for worse, the U.S. story is an immigrant’s story. Narratives of those who came here and found shelter from persecution jostle with histories of indigenous displacement and forced African migrations. Yet when we encounter tales of migration in the Age of Trump, they are more likely to be horror stories, recounting journeys initiated by fear or hunger and halted by frequent, bitter, barriers. Each immigrant’s story is different, but they flow together to form a human river that has reached flood stage. Walls won’t stop what set this this tide in motion in the first place, but they do make life a misery for millions of people. Yet it is in our response to this inherently human desire to seek security and safety that we observe most clearly not who “they” are, but who we have become.
October 3, 2013: A boat carrying more than five hundred Eritreans and Somalis sank off Lampedusa, a small Italian island in the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia. The boat went down quickly, but those who survived remained in the water for five hours, often clinging to the floating bodies of their dead companions. Among them was a young Eritrean woman, perhaps 20 years old, who literally gave birth as she drowned. Her waters had broken in the water. Rescue divers found the dead infant in her leggings, still attached by the umbilical cord. As Frances Saunders wrote in the London Review of Books, “The longest journey [was] also the shortest journey.”
Given that there are more than 70 million refugees and displaced persons in the world and almost 4 million asylum seekers, each day’s news is likely to yield disturbing, often heartbreaking, stories from the immigration front. Here’s a sampling taken from a single, almost random, day, January 31, 2020:
* Washington announced a ban on immigration from Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar. The new measure, brazenly anti-Black in its conception, reflects Trump’s expressed contempt for Africa. It blocks immigrant (not tourist) visas for nearly a quarter Africa’s 1.2 billion people. Unlike the outrage generated by Trump’s original Muslim travel ban from early 2017, no large demonstrations protested the new ban. Continue reading