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.
* The U.S. Department of (less-and-less) Justice ruled that those who apply for asylum in the U.S. and are forced to wait across the border for their hearings as part of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, will be issued an order of removal in absentia (i.e., deported) if they somehow fail to arrive on time for their hearing at a court on the U.S. side of the border. What could go wrong?
* The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that petitions filed by legal permanent residents or citizens to allow close relatives to apply for immigrant status will now only be processed in the United States and a few international offices; a large number of international offices will be closed to help USCIS “become more efficient.”
* As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads, the U.S. closed its borders to foreigners who had been in China. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross gleefully welcomed this international tragedy by taking a “victory lap” on Fox Business News. The coronavirus, Ross surmised, “will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”
* Following a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling lifting a nation-wide injunction, USCIS announced that, on February 24, it will finally implement the public charge rules it wrote last year. The new rules will radically alter both who will be admitted into the country and the public assistance which will be available to permanent legal residents. (Only green-card holders who have been resident for a number of years are currently eligible for limited assistance.) Government agents will now have the discretion of denying entry to an individual if they decide that the applicant may someday require some form of public assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid, or access to a federal housing program. Further, the new rules will prevent immigrant-visa applicants from including the legally binding financial support of petitioning family members or sponsors in the United States on their application, reversing what had been a long-standing practice. The new rules also limit access to public funds by legal permanent residents, and a draft regulation currently being circulated by the Department of Justice would make it easier to deport green card holders who access public benefits.
It is no small irony that, were these rules in place when Stephen Miller’s grandfather landed at Ellis Island over a century ago, he would have been turned back. Wolf-Leib Glosser arrived from a Jewish shtetl in (present day) Belarus in 1903 with only $8 to his name, certainly not enough to pass the “public charge” test. Back he would go to his hometown of Antopol where, tragically, only 7 of the town’s 2,000 Jews would survive the Holocaust. Stephen Miller, his grandson, is the driving force turning Trump’s anti-immigrant animus into concrete policy.
1903 was also the year that officials affixed a plaque engraved with Emma Lazarus’ famous poem onto the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Last August, NPR’s Rachel Martin asked Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of USCIS, if the United States still honored that sentiment. Yes, he replied, but quickly added that it should now read: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Since ancient times, the desire to trade goods has been the motive force behind the movement of people and goods across vast spaces. Particularly since the 15th century, humanity has been continually on the move, whether unwillingly, as with the more than 12 million enslaved persons kidnapped from Africa and sent to the Western Hemisphere, or willingly. Many voyagers left their homelands in search of better opportunities; millions more took to the road to escape war, pogroms, genocide, or starvation. Such migrants were rarely welcomed with open arms even though they went on to contribute to their new countries in countless ways. Currently, a record 71 million people are on the move. They are seeking nothing less than what humans have always sought: security. Increasingly, however, and with relatively few exceptions, they face barriers as solid as physical walls and as deep as xenophobic hatred. And increasingly, those erecting the walls are western liberal democracies, disgracefully led by the United States.
But why now? Why are more people on the move than ever before? The simplest answer is that you can only foul your nest for so long before you must face the consequences of your actions. Our recklessness is leading to monumental environmental catastrophes: farmlands cracked by prolonged droughts and picked clean by plagues of locust; islands shattered by ferocious hurricanes, fertile plains buried under flood waters. Climate destabilization is also provoking wars. Scientists have linked the on-going Syrian conflict to widespread crop failures triggered by the Fertile Crescent’s worst drought on record in 2007-10. Bashar al-Assad’s bankrupt agricultural policies and his government’s failure to address the needs of displaced populations strengthened demands for his ouster. His response was to violently attack his own population. In turn, years of war in Syria have generated almost 7 million refugees, with millions still on the move.
Politically, while Washington’s foreign policies have at times been motivated by generosity, all too often they have instigated wars, generated violence, and intensified inequality. The gangs that currently terrorize El Salvador and Honduras, the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were literally born on the streets of Los Angeles, founded by the children of refugees who had fled U.S.-backed wars in their own countries. These same gangs, now deported back to Central America, are in turn driving tens of thousands to flee for their lives. As Viet Thanh Nguyen suggests, “When we remember the wars that forced people to flee, oftentimes into the embrace of their colonizer or invader, then we can see that the immigrant story, staple of American culture, must actually be understood, in many cases, as a war story.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald described Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby as “careless people…[who] smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that held them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…” I can think of no better account of what Washington is doing. We retreat behind walls – our money and our carelessness – in order to keep out Haitians and Guatemalans, Mexicans and Salvadorans, Somalis and Syrians after we have smashed up their lands, expecting that others will clean up after us. But, they can’t; the destruction is too complete.
If I told you that, as a Haitian, your daughter could expect to live 20 years longer in the U.S. than in Haiti, would you be content to stay in Port-au-Prince, particularly since it was through no choice of your own that you were born there? And if your neighbors in Ohio or Virginia or Arizona were to ask why the United States should feel at all responsible for Haiti’s grinding poverty and precarious governments, I would remind them of our ethical responsibility to treat the stranger with respect, and then recommend that they study some history. After staging the world’s most successful slave rebellion and winning its independence from France, Haiti faced not only the hostility of its colonizers, but continual invasions from the United States. The U.S. Marines occupied the country between 1915 and 1934, and then sustained the Duvalier dictatorships (Papa and Baby Doc, alike) from 1957-1986. Perhaps, I would argue, Haitians (or Guatemalans, or Salvadorans) are owed something from the United States other than a door slammed in their faces.
November 21, 2019: Erwin Ardón, a young Honduran who had sought asylum in the United States after gangs threatened his life, was denied relief, put on a plane in El Paso and flown to Guatemala (yes, Guatemala) where he faced the choice of being sent to the Petén, a remote jungle area, or returned to Honduras. Erwin was caught up in Trump’s determination to ignore the legal rights of those who seek asylum in the United States after fleeing other countries. Brandishing the cudgel of trade sanctions, Trump pounded through so-called “Safe 3rd Country” rules with Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Under these rules, asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first country they enter on their route. The U.S., in turn, will deport those to whom asylum is not granted to the first country they passed through on their journey. Of course, none of those countries has shown any ability to protect their own citizens, let alone asylum seekers from other countries. The case of Guatemala is particularly serious as Washington is helping to create a new military force to patrol its border with Mexico and we know all too well how military forces created and funded by the U.S. have been used in Guatemala in the past.
Erwin’s case is not unusual, since most of the Administration’s actions this past year have taken aim at those who seek legal entry into the country via an asylum request, as refugees, or by means of an immigrant visa, giving the lie to the claim that if only migrants would line up in proper order like “we” did and follow the rules, they would be warmly welcomed. They wouldn’t. Besides the fact that the wait for family members to enter with an immigrant visa can now stretch to 20 years or more, and the “Safe 3rd Country” rules, a new program carrying the Orwellian label of “Migrant Protection Protocols,” more accurately known as “Remain in Mexico,” has forced more than 62,000 asylum seekers to stay in Mexico, far from legal support and in perilous conditions, until their cases are called. By pushing asylum seekers back to the Mexican border cities, the administration has essentially outsourced the work of deterring asylum seekers to the Mexican cartels that already terrorize many of these cities. There they can do their work out of sight of the U.S. media. A recent report from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) found that 80% of migrants waiting in Nuevo Laredo under MPP have been abducted by local drug cartels and nearly half have suffered violence or violation of some kind. Other agencies report more than 600 cases of kidnapping, rape, and murder committed against those forced to stay in Mexico while they wait the hearing to which they are legally entitled, in U.S. courts.
Those who actually make it to their “hearings” after months of waiting face almost certain disappointment. Of the nearly 30,000 such cases rushed through make-shift courts in seven border towns through the end of 2019, only 187 applicants were granted asylum.
Customs and Border Patrol has launched a new program in the El Paso area called the “Prompt Asylum Claim Review/Humanitarian Asylum Review Process” – Orwell should be paid overtime for his work in the immigration system. Under that process, CPB agents lock asylum seekers into low temperature rooms known as hieleras (iceboxes) where they are given 30 minutes to contact family members or seek legal help. The denial rate for asylum seekers in El Paso has reached almost 97%.
It’s not much better for those who have been granted temporary entry based on a “credible fear” interview at the border. Last year, 70% of all asylum cases heard in U.S. immigration courts were denied; less than 5% of individuals who lack a lawyer or other legal help won their asylum claims. Even those who have legal support are far from assured success. Last year I worked on the case of a Salvadoran who had the misfortune to witness police officers colluding with gang members. As much as he wanted, he couldn’t un-see what he had seen, nor would the police let him. They beat him repeatedly and threatened to kill both him and his family. He finally fled to the U.S. Even with legal representation and an expert witness on his side, he was denied asylum and put on a plane back to El Salvador. Like so many other deported Salvadorans, he returned to the same violence he had fled. Human Rights Watch recently reported that 138 people deported from the US have been murdered.
And should you be one of the lucky few to actually get temporary status as an asylee, the Department of Homeland Security has you covered as well. It is about to issue new rules preventing those granted temporary asylum from obtaining a work permit for an entire year as their cases for permanent status move through the courts. At the same time, they are ineligible to receive government assistance. (Germany, in contrast, provides about $400 a month to asylum seekers as their cases are processed).
This same angry logic also defines U.S. refugee policy. (Asylees are those who flee their homes and reach our borders; refugees seek entry from a third country while being unable to return to their homes.) This year, the administration lowered the cap on refugees to 18,000, the lowest number since the program began in 1980. The richest country in the world offers to resettle 18,000 refugees in a world awash with 71 million displaced people. World Relief, a faith based refugee organization, reported that in October, for the first time in 30 years, not a single refugee was admitted to the United States. “This isn’t just heartbreaking,” its president observed, “it’s unjust.”
And one shouldn’t forget that when the U.S. withdrew its troops from Syria last year, it unleashed a new wave of violence and more refugees in the country. More than 800,000 people fled their homes in Syria in the last three months alone. For refugees who reach the United States after years in camps and extensive vetting, many find that doors are still slammed in their weary faces. New rules passed by the administration – and currently blocked by judicial order – give states and local governments the right to veto refugee resettlement. At an October rally in Minneapolis, Trump attacked Somali refugees in that city as a raucous white crowd jeered.
November 9, 2019: Midori Nishida, eager to board her flight from Hong Kong to Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, was pulled aside and asked to fill out a “fit-to-fly” medical form. Although she was told that she had been randomly selected, in fact she was singled out, having been “observed to have a body size/shape resembling to a pregnant lady” (sic). She was escorted to a bathroom and forced to take a pregnancy test – which came up negative. While the airline involved later apologized, it appears that their personnel were just jumping the gun. Three months later the State Department gave visa officers more power to block pregnant women from visiting the United States, arguing that they are determined to halt so-called birth tourism, trips designed to help parents obtain U.S. citizenship for babies born here. While it is not clear how the new rules will be implemented, the White House press secretary argued that they were needed to maintain “the integrity of American citizenship” and protect “national security.” Which leaves one wondering: is a new-born going to blow up a building, steal national secrets, or simply report on Trump’s dealing with the Ukraine? More likely, the new measure addresses a long-held right-wing preoccupation with what they pejoratively term “anchor babies,” addressing their fear that children who don’t “deserve” U.S. citizenship will nonetheless receive it. Besides the troublesome underlying message that some infants “deserve” to be born in the U.S. and others don’t, a closer examination of the new policy reveals the blatant racism that drives the administration’s immigration policies. Because, if you are a woman “observed to have a body size/shape resembling to a pregnant lady” who holds a passport from one of 39 mostly western countries (Europe, Australia, New Zealand, etc.), there is no need for you to submit to the indignity of a pregnancy test: you’re allowed in. But if, on the other hand, you are from Guatemala or Ghana or Vietnam…here come’s the pregnancy test. The policy is not about stopping “anchor babies” – it’s about stopping non-white babies from being born in the United States.
The new pregnancy rules advance Trump’s stubborn desire to do away with birth-right citizenship in the United States. Birth-right citizenship is embedded in the 14th Amendment adopted in 1868 in the aftermath of the Civil War. It was intended to erase the 1857 Dred Scott decision which stipulated that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.], and sold as slaves, whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen.” Along with its surrounding amendments, the 14th Amendment, began to address in a limited way the historic crime of slavery in the United States. Yet Trump has referred to birth-right citizenship as “frankly ridiculous,” and Ken Cuccinelli, his acting director of USCIS, has argued that Trump could wipe out birthright citizenship by executive action alone, a sentiment that underscores the authoritarian tendencies of this administration. How sad is it that Cuccinelli won’t consider his own family’s history when enabling such actions? After all, his grandfather Dominick was just such an “anchor baby,” conceived in Italy and born shortly after his great-grandparents’ landed in the United States in 1896.
By making us moral pariahs in the eyes of the world – the U.S., for example, is soon to join Iran, Fiji, and Australia as the only countries that actually charge asylum seekers a fee to process their papers – these anti-immigrant policies threaten the country’s economic future in ways both individual and societal. Take the new “public charge” rules which would have shut the door not only to Stephen Miller’s grandfather, but, more recently, to Adenah Bayoh.
Adenah was 13 when she came to the U.S. from Liberia. She lived with her family in public housing, went to free government clinics for health checkups, and received free school lunches. She now owns multiple IHOP franchises and a restaurant chain that has employed over 500 people. Under the new “public charge” rules, she and her family would never have received an immigrant visa. Nor is hers the only such case: fully half of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were founded by first or second generation immigrants. More than half of all PhD’s working here are foreign-born, as are 45% of physicists, computer scientists and mathematicians, and one-third of all physics teachers. We should, then, be deeply troubled by the fact that international applications to U.S. undergraduate and graduate programs declined in 2016/17 and 2017/18, while Canada saw its international graduate enrollment increase 16.4% in 2017. (Canada has less to be troubled about.)
But Trump’s anti-immigration policies hide even bigger economic dangers. Census data released late last year reveal not only that the U.S. population gained immigrants at the slowest pace in a decade, but that the natural birth rate in the United States dropped to its lowest level in over a century. Since immigrants are more likely to be of working age than the U.S.-born population, fewer immigrants, who currently make up nearly 20% of the work force, and a smaller U.S.-born population raises the troubling question of how our already fraying social security net will be supported in the future. If you’re a billionaire or want to undermine Social Security and Medicaid, you’re probably not too worried about that data. Otherwise, you should be.
Still, Trump’s anti-immigrant stance isn’t about economic policy or even about formulating a conservative but stable immigration policy. It is the product of racist and xenophobic malice, pure and simple, which Trump has weaponized as his most reliable means of attracting votes from a base of people who imagine that their lives would be better if only all these “aliens” would “go home.” Who better to state the case than Tucker Carlson, one of Fox New’s Trump-whisperers, who reported that working-class men have not only “seen their real wages fall over time [because of] mass immigration,” but that falling male wages reduced their “attractiveness…as potential spouses thus reducing fertility and especially marriage rates.” There you have it: immigration is responsible not only for low wages, but for low sperm count.
In policy terms, Trump and Stephen Miller are determined to return U.S. immigration system to one that more closely aligns with the racist and discriminatory program installed by the National Origins Act of 1924 and jettisoned by Congress only in 1965. The Johnson-Reed Act not only excluded all immigration from Asia, but set drastic limits on Catholic immigration from southern Europe and Jewish immigration from eastern Europe. If the targets have changed, the intent remains the same. And, as with all of his immigration initiatives, Trump is advancing this by utilizing rule-making and regulatory authority, by-passing the will of Congress.
June 24, 2019: Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, a 25-year old Salvadoran desperate to bring his family to safety in the U.S., died attempting to cross the Rio Grande with his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria. As his wife watched helplessly from the Mexican side of the river, Oscar and Angie Valeria were pulled away by a strong current. The photograph of their bodies washing up on the U.S. shore, her tiny head tucked inside his T-shirt, an arm draped over his neck, is more than the image of a family crushed by oppressive circumstances. It is the portrait of a country that has utterly lost its way, abandoning even the pretense of morality.
And yet Trump, oblivious or uncaring, continues to push for more walls, higher walls, “big, beautiful walls,” defying Congressional votes, laws, and common sense. Those who argue that walls are both an ineffective and an expensive way to address migrant flows are correct. The majority of people in the country without proper documentation are those who have overstayed their visas, not those who risk their lives crossing blistering deserts or attempting to swim rivers. But they are also missing a fundamental point. Trump’s wall is not actually about keeping people out. The wall is a visual shout out to his xenophobic base, a reminder that he is one of them (and they need to support him). But even more, as one of the largest federal infrastructure expenditures in U.S. history, the wall is intended as a physical manifestation of Trump’s power to do what he wants, not what the law permits. “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,” our monarch bellows from the top of his wall: “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
But, as the winds literally blow down sections of the wall, and as smugglers climb over it using rebar ladders that blend in with its color scheme, we are reminded not just of Shelley’s poem, but of ancient Pericles who provided a wiser message: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Lope de Vega, the Spanish playwright, wrote Fuente Ovejuna in 1619. The play recounts the story of a town whose inhabitants conspire in the murder of their tyrannical governor. When a royal judge arrives and asks who did the deed, they all respond, “Fuente Ovejuna.” Everybody. But there’s a danger here: if everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible. When Pope Francis, on his first official trip outside of Rome after becoming pontiff, held a mass on the shoreline in Lampedusa, the site of so many refugee deaths, he recalled the play. “Today too,” he said, “the question has to be asked: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody!…The globalization of indifference makes us all ‘unnamed’; responsible, yet nameless and faceless.”
Elaine Scarry has written that “the human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small.” Perhaps the most important borders of all are those we erect in our own minds. We find ourselves in danger of constructing barriers stronger and more enduring than Trump’s wall when – through weariness, apathy, indifference, or a feeling of impotence – we lose our capacity to imagine the lives of those less fortunate or less privileged than our own. Because we share with all humanity an equal claim to dignity and respect, we are therefore equally responsible for what happens next.
So, what are we to do? How do we challenge the “globalization of indifference?” If Trump and his enablers haven’t yet forced through their fully racist immigration regime, it is only because they have been blocked by judges who still care about the law; by legislators who take their oath of office seriously, by immigrant rights organizations and activists who work each day to support the dignity of the most vulnerable among us; and by the millions who still believe that liberty and justice should, in fact, belong to all. Still, it’s all too easy, when dealing with immigration work, to feel overwhelmed or despondent; to feel that the little that we can accomplish is just a drop in the ocean. So why bother?
In the first place, remember that we are the majority on immigration issues, not Trump or Stephen Miller. Not only did Gallup polling last year show that 57 percent of Americans support taking in Central American refugees, but it also indicated that such support is rising. Furthermore, more than three-fourths of those polled defined immigration as being good for the United States, the highest since Gallup first asked in 2001.
I’m also reminded of a song we sing during the Passover Seder, dayyenu, which means “It would have been enough.” The song recites a number of things that God did for the Israelites, followed by the refrain, “it would have been enough.” For example: “If God split the sea for us but didn’t bring us through to dry land … It would have been enough.” But we know, actually, that it wouldn’t have been enough. What would it have meant to be stuck in the middle of the Red Sea forever? The real message of the dayyenu is that we can’t remain passive, rejecting every small but necessary step because it doesn’t result in the final victory. It means that we need to celebrate each step we take towards justice as if it were the final step, but then to move onto the next step.
And what is the next step? What follows is a list of ten things to do, ten actions to take, although there certainly could be dozens more. Some steps are easy; others require more time and effort. But everyone can do some of them and all of us are responsible for what happens next.
(1) Stay informed, stay focused, stay concerned. Get your news from sources that provide accurate information and can connect you with others engaged in this work.
(2) Register to vote, help others register, insure that voters aren’t removed from the voting rolls, fight voter intimidation and repression, and, when the time comes keep the immigrant in mind when you pull the lever.
(3) Immigrants, whether here without the proper documentation, on temporary visas, or even green card holders, face many obstacles just getting through the day. They have to get to medical appointments, ICE check-ins, and court appearances. Often they can’t work. Dozens of organizations in most states can put you in touch with groups that are looking for volunteers to help them. Some local organizations organize vigils at ICE detention centers; provide rapid response training in the event of ICE raids; or organize reliable information networks via social media to warn of traffic stops by ICE agents as well as to prevent the spread of false information that can create panic within immigrant communities.
(4) Lobby your congressional representatives around specific pieces of legislation supporting immigrants that are currently working their way through Congress. Here’s a good place to start. Also, the Refugee Protection Act [H.R. 5210] introduced in Congress last November, would, among other things, open the country to receiving more refugees, including at least 100,000 a year from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. It would remove the “Safe 3rd Country” rules that require migrants to apply for asylum in the countries they transited on their way north. The measure would also reverse the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” and allow asylum-seekers to be released temporarily into the United States if they pose no risk to public safety. And it would reverse the Attorney General’s decision to bar people fleeing domestic or gang violence from obtaining asylum. Lobby in support of the No Ban Act that would prohibit blanket countrywide immigration bans.
(5) Support sanctuary cities, sanctuary churches, and an individual’s right to conscience. Customs and Border Patrol recently announced that they would deploy elite tactical units, SWAT teams, to work with ICE to effect raids and arrests in sanctuary cities. With additional gear such as stun grenades and enhanced Special Forces-type training, including sniper certification, these teams typically conduct high-risk operations targeting violent criminals. They will now be on the streets in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and other self-declared sanctuary cities. This intimidation is blatantly illegal and must be stopped.
(6) Arrange for immigrants and immigration speakers to talk to your faith-based communities, book clubs, political groups, school classes, business round tables, and coffee klatches. Talk to family members, friends and neighbors about the immigrants’ role in U.S. history. Trump has made the scapegoating of immigrants central to his campaigns. In the process, his administration has desanctified the lives of immigrants, reducing them to statistical road kill. Our best response is to let immigrants tell their stories when they can or to help them tell their stories when they are unable.
Our neighbors, and therefore the country, will not change until they can hear the story of the immigrant, refugee and asylum seeker as an individual story. They need to hear the stories of Angie Valeria and all the immigrant children who have died in U.S. custody so that they can imagine them as their own children.
(7) Write letters and op-eds to your local papers; share your insights with your local communities.
(8) Never lose your sense of decency. In a Senate hearing in 1954, a Boston lawyer by the name of Joseph Welch turned the tide against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terror, asking him: “Have you no sense of decency?” Trump, Stephen Miller, Ken Cuccinelli, and others have shown themselves to be utterly shameless. Lacking a sense of human decency themselves, these men are counting on us to be so pummeled by their daily assaults that we abandon our sense of decency as well. Don’t. Shame those elected representatives who stay in office through fear mongering and scapegoating. Make a list of a few elected officials you will call once a week to tell them that human decency requires that they protect the most vulnerable among us, and that includes the immigrant.
(9) Keep the faith. I’m not one to speak of faith, and I’m not using it in a religious sense. Faith involves uncertainty – if we were certain, we wouldn’t need faith. Faith involves believing in something a rational person might be seriously tempted to doubt. Faith is a bit different than hope. Hope looks toward the future and tells us that a more just world is possible. But faith –faith is about the here and now; it’s what allows us to engage with those with whom we disagree when we have no idea, and few expectations, as to where those conversations will take us. When I think of faith, I think of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The Midrash relates that during the Exodus, when the Israelites reached the Red Sea, the waters did not automatically part. So they halted at the shoreline and despaired. But one person, Nahshon, took a step forward; it was only when he was up to his nose in the water that the sea parted. Faith is stepping into the water when we don’t know what will happen; it is a mode of persistence. Faith can build the everyday spaces where change first begins. So, keep the faith.
(10) Finally, as a newscaster for radio station KTIM said in his daily closing salutation, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.” Every day is a new day, every day matters.