The president’s shutdown pits us against each other. Instead, let’s unite with respect to end it.
If you’re a passport-holding citizen, immigration might not ever be something you think about. Before I started learning about it myself, I mistakenly believed it was a binary issue—legal or not legal. As in, either you’re here with documentation or you face the consequences.
I’m not proud of this, but in the immortal words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
A place of refuge
What I know today is that our nation has its own Congress-approved, president-signed laws that make America a place of refuge and hope to people fleeing desperate conditions around the world. At its best, our nation values compassion and welcome. We appreciate and value the myriad contributions of diverse people.
With respectful exception to Native people and people who arrived on slave ships, we are a nation of immigrants who came here by choice or necessity. Somewhere in your family tree are people who faced the same fears and uncertainty as those who arrive at our southern border.
Our laws enshrine our commitment to offering refuge. Rather than a binary issue, immigration is a continuum. Asylum-seeking is legal. Seeking refuge is legal. Seeking citizenship—for yourself, your spouse, your children—is legal. But when the current president arbitrarily closes the doors of “legal ports of entry”, is it suddenly illegal to seek those things? If a parched, starving person crosses elsewhere in desperation, are they exempt from these rights?
As citizens, we must grapple with these moral questions even if we never encounter them firsthand.
Gambling with lives
Not only is the shutdown hurting Americans, the reality today is that some government departments are acting in opposition to both the letter and spirit of our nation’s own laws. Last week, ICE arrested a woman during her marriage-green-card hearing. Despite her physician’s grave concern about her high-risk pregnancy, ICE refused to release her. ICE refused her access to essential medication, even though she reported dizziness due to hypertension. Even if you are not directly impacted by ICE raids, this knowledge should present a moral concern. Is the life of a person without citizenship less valuable?
As people of conscience, we can sense the injustice of how ICE treated this woman. Fortunately, she was released over the weekend and is faring better. That she is engaged to a citizen should not matter. It’s the overarching trend that makes her story the norm, rather than the exception.
Effort shared is effort eased
Here’s the crux of the issue: At the moment, people with vulnerable immigration status are bearing the burden of advocating for their rights—and at great personal risk. ICE is actively targeting and arresting leaders of these movements to intimidate them.
These communities need us—all of us—to join them and support their calls for decency and justice. Even liberal “blue” representatives in Congress are starting to lean favor of a small section of wall, or increased militarization, or surveillance that also (if inadvertently) tracks citizens. Does a “digital wall” honor the spirit of our nation’s refuge laws (or our constitutional right to freedom from search)?
Anyone with a secure immigration status must reflect on whether they have moral cause to speak up.
Are any of us disposable?
After the president’s announcement [proposing a trade of billions in wall funding for time-limited DACA and TPS], it’s clear this administration wants to pit us against each other. Will we have a wall or a functioning government? Will we support government employees or immigrants? He frames it in a way that implies that one of these two groups is disposable, but doesn’t care which.
Of course not
Refuse to comply with this framing. We can reopen the government, restore services, and honor our historical, moral, and legal foundations to welcome new immigrant neighbors. Let us dismiss his offer, and act instead from a deep conviction that respect is an infinite, non-depletable resource available to all.
Let us act from a deep conviction that respect is an infinite, non-depletable resource available to all.
Our calls to end this unjust shutdown must include the immigration community’s priorities. Let us speak up together for respect for all residents of our nation and lift those words to our Congressional representatives—red and blue.