No doubt there are many Americans who resent recent waves of immigrants because they worry that they will begin to feel like strangers in their own land. Since immigrant groups tend to form communities of folks from their parent nations, since they have struggles that they hold in common such as finding employment, learning a new language and new customs, there is comfort in struggling together. Assimilation always takes time. The problems immigrants must deal with in a new land are multiplied when they are in that land without having gone through the proper channels. They may only be able to find employment with fellow immigrants who came before them, or employment that pays under the table and offers no security or benefits. They need to keep a low profile so that they will not draw attention to their status. These factors and more (economic and geographic) tend to keep new immigrants separated from middle class white Americans. Since new immigrants do not get to mingle with very many suburban Americans the groups fear each other and put up defenses against what they may feel are existential threats.
This has been true as each new wave of immigrants settled in America driven by challenges in their home nations to find more economic security or freedom. People did not welcome Chinese immigrants or Japanese immigrants, Italian, German, or Irish immigrants. And there was never a question that these folks would change the language or the “complexion” of America. Recent waves from Spanish-speaking countries and tropical nations with folks with more pigmentation are forcing Americans to face the fact that we might have to learn more than one language and accept an American that looks more like the melting pot that we have always claimed to be.
There is another aspect to this and it is that these “new” arrivals are competing with already established Americans for jobs opportunities that are more limited than in the past and that people believe the government is giving out benefits to these folks paid for by our tax dollars. Even worse, Americans feel that people who are here without permissions are also partaking of benefits even as our government is threatening to cut or do away with them altogether. People worry that the pie is being cut into too many pieces and people are standing in line who have no right to a piece of the pie at all.
But coexisting with what we do and say and feel are the ideals we treasure as Americans and that we praise ourselves with when we are feeling patriotic. We still hold to the plaque on the Statue of Liberty which classifies us among the most humanitarian of nations, with a compassionate heart for the suffering people living in nations that seem not as blessed as ours (the war torn, the poor, the starving, those struck by disaster).
We cannot be both champions of human rights and white nationalists. I hear people trying to disown the words on the Liberty plaque. I hear people applauding a campaign to roust immigrants who have been here for years and send them home to uncertain fates. I feel the parallel to the Nazi round-up of Jewish people which we now find abhorrent. We always told ourselves in our American hearts that we could never hunt people down and take away their belongings and eventually their lives. But it is happening right now all over America in the early morning hours when ICE agents raid 7-Elevens to haul away people working without documents or in the late-night hours when they arrest someone out for a walk and some father just never comes home to his family who wait and suffer.
I know that the world is chaotic. I know that there are those who like to terrorize us and plant fear in our hearts. I know that right now most of these terrorists happen to be from Muslim or Middle Eastern nations, nations that have been destabilized by us and our allies, nations where ancient animosities have been set free to be pursued again in modern times. This sets the stakes of immigration even higher. A nation has a right to have rules about immigration.
We have had terrorist attacks on American soil, starting with the horrific attacks on 9/11. I understand the urge to safety, to expel recent immigrants without documents from our shores, to build walls. I see Europe paying a price for their humanitarian decisions, although not as all-encompassing as we might fear. Are we as brave as the Brits or the French, are we as defiant in the face of mayhem? I believe we are? Europe is not threatening to build a wall or send people back to war and death.
Our President is feeding our fears. He is feeding our resentments. He is promising to keep us safe from terrorists and people of color and bring to our shores only the best and the brightest people provided they are Europeans (why would these folks want to come here?). What will the American people settle for? Do they insist on sending everyone who entered without documentation or overstayed their documents home? Do they insist on the wall? Do they insist on sending home the children who came here in all innocence and to whom promises were made? Do we send home people we promised to give Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to (Salvadorans, Haitians)? How do we rip them from their lives now? They are embedded in our culture. They have businesses, jobs, children in schools. Do we really say “out, get out”? How do we square this with our consciences? How do we square this with our American ideals? Will the damage to the world’s image of America be temporary or permanent? How will we like being a global social pariah? Isn’t this kind of safety and identity protection cowardice? Won’t we eventually pay a price? Isn’t it better to throw our future in with the rest of the planet instead of trying to wall ourselves off in a world full of planes and drones?
Here is how this thing looks on a very personal level. This is the contents of an email I received from the local resistance which puts a face on the President’s immigration pogrom.
“Community Outreach & Defense urgently calls your attention, this week, to the work of the coalition’s Rapid Response Committee. The Rapid Response Committee exists to immediately respond to immigrant detentions in the city of Syracuse and to provide support to those who are facing possible deportation. Just days before Christmas, on December 21st, 2017, the Rapid Response Team responded to the detention of Workers’ Center member Hector Navarro, husband of Arely Tomas. Later that day, the family’s ongoing fundraising page was updated with the following statement:
“Today on December 21st, Arely’s husband Hector–father to their 3 kids, a worker, and longtime community member, was detained by Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) outside of their home after taking Arely, to work. He was taken to and detained at the immigration office at 401 S. Salina Street (which is right behind Katko’s downtown office) this morning. The Syracuse Rapid Response Team and the Workers’ Center of CNY held a protest outside demanding Hector be freed and to speak out against this grave injustice. It is completely and utterly unconscionable that this barbaric and unjust immigration system will be keeping Hector away from his wife, Arely, and their three kids on Christmas. This is a double blow as their family has already been rocked by Arely’s fight against deportation as well. We have increased the fundraising goal as Hector and Arely’s family will now need funds to help cover rent, utilities, and other necessities for their family. Please show your solidarity with their family in this truly harrowing time.”
Hector is currently being held in immigrant detention in Batavia, NY.
There are three ways the broader coalition can amplify the work of Rapid Response and directly support Hector Navarro:
1) Please consider contributing to Arely’s fundraiser to pay for legal fees for herself and Hector, as well as for basic living expenses. You can donate to the fundraiser by clicking here. It is also possible to pay by cash or check made out to Arely Tomas, which can be dropped off at or mailed to WCCNY/Hector and Arely Fund at 2013 East Genesee St. Syracuse NY 13210.
2) At this Sunday’s full Coalition meeting, a letter will be circulating for folks to sign in support of Hector. For those of you who do not know Hector personally, here is some more background information about him and his family, written by Rebecca Fuentes, director of the Workers Center of Central New York:
“Hector has been a source of strength and support for Arely on her own immigration case. Both of them have complied with everything ICE has asked of them. Hector case was administratively closed on January 2017, so his detention was totally unexpected and devastating for their three US children who live in Syracuse and their two children who are in Guatemala. Hector has volunteer his time at the Workers Center in events like our yearly soccer tournament and workers rights trainings. He likes to play with his children and spend time with his family as much as possible. Hector does not have any criminal record. He has lived in Syracuse since 2009.”
3) If you know Hector or Arely personally, we are encouraging individuals to write your own letters of support if you have not done so already. We are trying to collect as many letters as possible so that we can show the judge that Hector is a cherished and vital member of our community and his family.
As a reminder, a key value shared by the members of the Community Outreach & Defense Committee is that those most directly affected by an issue are the ones that know the best solutions to that issue, and for that reason we must center and uplift the work done by immigrants to defend themselves and their community. The Rapid Response Team works closely with the Workers Center of Central New York and makes efforts to remain accountable to immigrant leadership. If you are interested in getting involved in the Rapid Response Committee, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We need all the help we can get.” (Since this email asks for support I assume it is acceptable to repost it.)
What I don’t understand and can’t understand is why we must disrupt people who have already found a productive place in America, regardless of how they got here. This is a case where the treatment is worse than the disease. We’re doing this because some Americans are ticked off and jealous and because our white supremacist President wants to turn America lily white again, which is apparently what Make America Great Again (MAGA) means. We’re doing this even though 2/3 of Americans are vehemently opposed to it and ethically embarrassed by it. We’re doing this although it undoes all the shock and horror we felt when our troops liberated the concentration camps after World War II and we could no longer deny the genocide, the pure inhuman carnage.
If we cower behind a wall and empty our country of these people who have become our neighbors, or our employees, or our colleagues, and fellow students will we lose our collective soul?
This is a view from the cheap seats.