I stood with nearly 300 members of my community Friday night at a “Lights for Liberty” candlelight vigil in protest of the horrific treatment of immigrants on the US southern border.
This was one of 800 such vigils worldwide, all designed to persuade the government of this nation, a nation of immigrants, to stop using cruelty and dehumanization against children and families.
Think about that: people throughout the world gathered to register their horror at the policies and actions of the US government.
Two aspects of the presentations moved me the most. The first was a speech by a councilwoman from a neighboring community. She introduced herself as a “proud American” and an immigrant and described her journey from India when she was 11 years old.
Her mother was traveling with her and her two brothers to reunite with her father, who had arrived in the US two years earlier to make enough money so that he could bring his family to this great country for a happier, more financially secure life.
The councilwoman said she was apprehensive, but she was with her mother, so she knew everything would be OK. “I can’t imagine,” she said, “what it would have been like to have been taken away from my mother and brothers, and not know whether I’d ever see them again. I can’t imagine having to live under the conditions we’re hearing about—to have no food, no toothbrushes, no bedding, no clean clothes…”
The other presentation that brought me to tears was made by a series of teenagers, who took to the podium to read from the actual statements made by young people in our nation’s care.
These statements were recorded by attorneys who visited the Customs and Border Protection facilities in late June. You can find them at newsweek.com. Here’s a sampling:
“At 3 a.m. the next day the officers told us that our grandmother would be taken away. My grandmother tried to show the officers a paper signed by my parents saying that my grandmother had been entrusted to take care of us. The officers rejected the paperwork saying that it had to be signed by a judge. Then the officers took my dear grandmother away. We have not seen her since that moment.” -From a 12-year-old girl
“At Ursula, we have not been able to shower. The toilet is out in the open in the cage, there is no door for any privacy. There is water but no soap to wash our hands. There are no paper towels to dry our hands. We have not been given a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush our teeth.” -From a 17-year-old boy
“The day after we arrived here, my baby began vomiting and having diarrhea. I asked to see a doctor and they did not take us. I asked again the next day and the guard said: ‘She doesn’t have the face of a sick baby. She doesn’t need to see a doctor.’ My baby daughter has not had medicine since we first arrived. She has a very bad cough, fever and continues to vomit and have diarrhea.” -From a 16-year-old girl
The Trump Administration has made deliberate decisions to deter immigration by separating families and forcing children—from babies to adolescents—as well as adults to live in inhumane conditions. Threatened surprise raids on immigrants are part of this cruelty. American citizens are among those who have been rounded up and deported.
And we, the taxpayers, are footing the bill for all this: $200 daily in government-run cages; $700-plus daily in private facilities through which people such as former Chief of Staff John Kelly profit financially.
Who among us can turn a blind eye to the horrors that are being perpetrated by our government right now?
Border security is a legitimate issue—one that Congress should have resolved years ago. In fact, they came close: a comprehensive immigration reform bill, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act passed the Senate in 2013 by a vote of 68-32. But the House failed to act.
Is it now possible, with Democratic control of the House, that if such a bill were proposed, Senator Mitch McConnell, who delights in calling himself The Grim Reaper, would even bring it to a vote?
He has already refused to consider more than 100 House-passed bills on healthcare, infrastructure, voting machine protection, and other issues on which large majorities of Americans agree.
But this is now an even more complex issue. Immigration had been down for several years. The increases lately are due to the grievous conditions in Central America (immigration from Mexico is actually down): poverty, homicides, gangs trying to recruit young teenagers, drug lords, and climate change.
Climate change is part of the worldwide impetus for migration that many countries in Europe are grappling with.
The situation on our southern border should send an alarm bell concerning what we have to look forward to if we continue to deny the existence of climate change and don’t act promptly.
Erik Kobayashi-Solomon, a contributor to Forbes, pointed out that the three countries from which most immigrants seeking asylum at our southern border are now fleeing—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—are part of an “ecologically fragile ‘dry corridor’ that has been hit in the last few years by alternating droughts and drenching precipitation which climate sciences have shown is related to warming global temperatures.”
Since about 1/3 of the people there depend on subsistence farming, it doesn’t take huge variations in climate to wreak havoc on their crops. They are then compelled to leave their homes and set out for cities—cities rife with corruption and run by criminal gangs. The author observes:
“So they make the rational choice to head north for economic security and rule of law.”
“Recent reporting from Jonathan Blitzer at the New Yorker and John Carlos Frey at the Marshall Project makes a convincing case that climate change is a major underlying cause of the recent pick-up in northward migration from Central America.”
Poverty isn’t currently considered by our government a legitimate reason for asylum, but it’s realistic to believe that many of these people requesting asylum also fear for their lives. Why else would they make the obviously dangerous trek from their homes, their children in tow?
Instead, they are caged and deprived of basic necessities. And even though family members in the US are often available to take them in, the government doesn’t contact these people, deliberately worsening the overcrowded facilities situation.
President Trump did inherit an unresolved immigration problem. The New York Times has editorialized that “All Presidents Are Deporters in Chief.”
That dubious honorific was given by immigrants rights groups to President Obama, though his administration sought to deport primarily criminals and created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a pathway to citizenship for the young people who were brought here as babies and have known only the US as their home.
Though we may wish to embrace every last soul seeking refuge here, that isn’t possible.
But the question The Times raises is what kind of Deporter in Chief a President is—or will be.
In faulting this President, the editors state:
“For Mr. Trump, deterrence of illegal immigration has been a guiding principle — if not by means of a wall, then by means of cruelty toward migrants, from the squalid conditions in detainee facilities to separating children from their parents.”
“It’s the complete, 100 percent focus on harsher options that will deter the influx, with a disregard for managing what’s happening,” a Department of Homeland Security official told The Times earlier this year. “We have a lot more families, a lot more unaccompanied children, and the focus has just been on how can we deter, rather than how can we handle.”
But, writes The Times:
“…deterrence alone can’t explain a slew of other moves — scaling back a program that protects the families of members of the military and veterans from being deported, for instance. It doesn’t explain the frantic — yet unsuccessful — effort to put a question about citizenship on the census, which experts agree would lead to an undercount of people in immigrant-heavy communities. Nor does deterrence explain removing deportation protections from nearly one million people who live in the country under the auspices of humanitarian programs or because they were brought to the country as children.”
As one of the signs at the “Lights for Liberty” vigil I attended said: “We are better than this.”
We must insist on a rapid end to the cruelty, the family separations, the conditions that are leading to epidemics of scabies, lice, and chicken pox in the overcrowded facilities—even to several deaths.
In addition to comprehensive immigration reform, we need adherence to legal processes and humane care for those who seek asylum—and a Marshall Plan to improve life in their countries of origin so that many of them can return there safely.
One more thing isn’t getting enough attention. The dirty big secret is that illegal immigrants are an important part of our nation’s economy.
Undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.6 billion a year in taxes, and since they tend to live in the shadows, they use fewer governmental services.
If Trump succeeds in substantially lowering the numbers of undocumented immigrants, our economy will suffer. The jobs he claims the immigrants are taking? They are jobs most Americans refuse to accept. Hotels are already worrying about who will clean the rooms; farmers are wondering who will harvest the lettuce.
What’s more, Trump’s policies have also been directed at reducing legal immigration. That, too, will have a negative impact on our economy. Here, verbatim, are some myths and facts about the issue from PBS NewsHour:
Myth #1: Immigrants take more from the U.S. government than they contribute.
Fact: Immigrants contribute more in tax revenue than they take in government benefits.
Myth #2: Immigrants take American jobs.
Fact: Immigrant workers often take jobs that boost other parts of the economy.
Myth #3: The U.S. economy does not need immigrants.
Fact: Immigrants are key to offsetting a falling birth rate.
Myth #4: It would be better for the economy if immigrants’ children were not citizens.
Fact: Children with citizenship are more productive workers.
And an AP fact check on this issue, also from PBS NewsHour, notes the following:
“The fact is that 75 percent of immigrants arrived legally, according to the Pew Research Center. In general, the entire immigrant population is increasingly better educated than native-born Americans.
They’re more likely to have jobs. They’re less likely to commit violent crimes. They help fuel economic growth. And as a group over time, they’re no more a drain on taxpayers than native-born citizens.
Moreover, for all the attention to the southern border, in recent years immigrants to the U.S. have been more likely to come from Asia than from Mexico.”
So I return to the sign I saw at the “Lights for Liberty” Vigil that said: “We Are Better Than This.” I emphatically agree.
And I hope that sometime very soon, most Americans in this, our nation of immigrants, will dismiss the lies and distortions and appreciate the value of welcoming new immigrants (who often become our friends and neighbors), knowing that when it comes to understanding their role in our country—and in our economy— We Are Also Smarter Than This.
20 thoughts on “Where Are the Lights of Liberty? We Are Better Than This!”
Unfortunately, this will have no effect on the current administration’s policies. While some religious leaders have spoken out those with a vested interest in the Republican party have remained silent, suggesting that their so called religious convictions are a sham. We need better immigration laws and we need better border security but we don’t need to give up our humanity in the process.
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I readily acknowledge that my message will have no effect on the administration’s policies. My somewhat bruised hope lies with the American people, who consistently show in polls that they do not share the Trump administration’s views. In fact, here’s a link to a 2018 article stating that those views have actually made Americans more pro-immigration.
Thanks for your comment–and particularly for pointing out the silence of religious leaders, whose voices one would expect to hear loud and clear under the circumstances.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the Dems and Repubs would stop blaming each other on why previous attempts to legislate this problem failed.
Then, realizing the seriousness of this problem, try to come together and come up with something where each party felt they had to give up too much, but would still pass the bill because each felt the other gave more than they did.
Any chance for a compromise? Doubtful, since members of each party keep bickering and blustering amongst themselves- forget trying to work things out with the other party.
They don’t fit the ‘Are We Better than This’ category. We’ve elected a sad bunch of Congress people.
While it’s clear that our nation has had quite a checkered past on the issue of immigration—with both parties bearing responsibility—sometimes at different points, I don’t feel there’s comparability right now. President Trump launched his campaign with a call for a Muslim ban, and he has fomented hatred against immigrants with blatant lies and horrendous actions. And almost none of the Republicans has so much as verbally slapped his wrist. McConnell has made it clear there will not only be no legislation on bills the House sends to the Senate—there won’t even be discussion of proposed legislation. At one point, the Democrats offered Trump a deal on border security that many thought was too generous, but he refused because he seems to have no interest in actually solving problems—only in creating them. He’s done the same thing with infrastructure bills and opioid dependency assistance.
Many of the newly elected House members do seem dedicated to doing the people’s business. Let’s hope they win re-election—and that somehow voters persuade the Republicans that compromise is essential.
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Are we better than this? Evidently not. Recall how Americans enslaved millions of people. Took children away from parents and sold them to other slave owners? Broke up families. Recall how the Native American families were destroyed by Bureau of Indian Affairs policies. Took children from their parents and sent them hundreds of miles away to “Indian schools”. Remember the mass graves of Chinese workers dumped in the ground after they built transcontinental railroad. The weekly lynchings of black men and boys in the south. Recall how the Jewish families were turned away before WW2 and sent back to Europe , later to be put in concentration camps by the Nazis. Recall that Japanese families were interred in camps in WW2…..Now we put brown children in cages. So, whats new? Are we better than this?
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I can’t dispute any of your painful litany; in fact, I have written about much of it on this blog. But I continue to hope that the ideals of America—which have allowed many immigrants to live more peaceful and prosperous lives—and have improved the status of people of color, women, and LGTBQ folks—will be continually advanced. As I have often written, I place great hope in the upcoming generation, which seems considerably freer of bias than their predecessors. (And yes, there are haters among them too, but I like to think they will once again return to the shadows.)
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The thing is, at the same time aid to the countries these desperate people are coming from is being cut, making things worse there and ensuring that even more refugees are willing to risk the journey. It’s almost like they WANT this to happen.
Gladwell has an interesting podcast on the history of the wall, and how undocumented immigrants stayed as it got harder to cross the US/MX border.
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I always enjoy your comments on JP’s blog, so I’m delighted to see you here.
And I agree: if there were any way to worsen the problem, cutting aid seems guaranteed to do it. Whether it’s malice or ignorance or a combination thereof, the result will be the same,
Thank you for the resource. I am always grateful for additional materials to enrich the discussion and advance our knowledge.
Hope you’ll visit again soon!
Extremely well written and well thought out blog post.
I remember back in the 2016 election, I had written a vampire novel chapter where Michelangelo the Psychic Lobster had a vision of a Statue of Liberty bearing Donald Trump’s features and the inscription on the statue read, “Don’t give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed away from me, while I lower my lamp and shut the door.”
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Thank you, Christopher.
Yep, your Michelangelo had his number, as did many of us who knew of his reputation for hatred and corruption long before he ran for president.
But now that he’s been so blatant, 2020 will be as much a referendum on us as it will be on him. And Mitch McConnell, who likes to call himself The Grim Reaper because he kills all House bills, won’t allow a vote on a bill to help local counties protect the vote from Russian intrusion. Unfortunately, that’s fact, not fiction or fake news.
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Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Annie. Sadly, as I read the words “our great country,” it struck me that this may no longer be the case. Despite Trump’s campaign slogan, he has been compromising America’s greatness since his electoral college victory–cozying up to dictators, appointments of right-wing radicals to the Supreme Court (thanks, Mitch McConnell), praise of anti-Semitic demonstrators, a cabinet full of incompetent lackeys, increased climate change denial, demonizing immigrants, and, most recently, overt racism. If genuine public servants with consciences and forward-looking policies prevail in the 2020 elections, perhaps we can again be proud of this country.
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We must be hopeful and involved—and cross our fingers that the eager young progressive Democratic women whom Trump is now so viciously attacking will appreciate that unity is essential for success in 2020–more than ideological purity.
Sickening. Thanks for the facts and myths laid out so cleanly. I’ll be forwarding this to my legislative representatives as well as the non-profits who have steadfastly been working on these issues. Who would have guessed that the day would come when being an American causes me to hang my head in shame. That lasts exactly one minute, and now we get to work and show what being an American really means. Write on, Annie, and thank you.
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Thanks, Denise. I’m grateful that you’re sharing this info. I like the idea of following the brief head-hanging with getting to work to show what being an American really means!
It boggles the mind how this sort of practice is allowed in 21st century western society. I live in the UK and although I know of what’s going on, I don’t ‘feel’ it as much. Well done on attending the vigil, I would have been there if I were a citizen, too. Well done on dispelling the myths and having your voice heard. Let’s hope common sense and compassion win out eventually…
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Thanks very much for your support, Caz. It is indeed hard to imagine what’s going on and to feel powerless to stop it. Take care.
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Thanks for wading into this mess. And it is a mess. Although I am a longtime conservative, I have tended to have a much more positive view on immigration than many on my side of the fence. From where I sit, both sides have taken their turn whipping the issue when they thought it made a better political issue unsolved than solved.
But now, what to do about it. We seem to have two irreconcilable problems. One is that we have had (for a long time) fairly restrictive quotas on who can legally come in. The days of Ellis Island have been over for a long time. On the other hand, there has been no shortage of people who want to come here for a better life. The current problem is that they are coming in unprecedented numbers (like many thousands every day) and instead of simply crossing illegally and taking their chances like in the “good old days” they are claiming asylum. We cannot accommodate everyone from every poor or dangerous country. We would be like a lifeboat that goes down when too many desperate souls try to climb aboard.
It is my view that the asylum claims are an abuse of what asylum claims are supposed to be, but it is what it is. Any rational political actors would recognize the problem and try to come up with a solution that 1) increases the numbers of folks legally allowed in and 2) discourages the rest from crashing the gates. But right now, the activists on both sides seem to see an advantage in not compromising, so I don’t see much getting done. FWIW, I am concerned about reports that many of these unaccompanied kids are teetering on the edge of human trafficking, something that would (to me) be much worse than a detention facility. But it is an ugly situation all around.
I am not at all surprised to find that you are concerned about this matter and seeking a reasonable solution. And I do agree with your basic premise about what “any rational political actors” would do.
But I emphatically disagree with your depiction of two equally uncompromising sides. This President and his administration did everything they could from day One to exacerbate the issue. Their family separation policy is blatantly immoral, as is their refusal to contact the family members willing to take in the immigrants while they await court dates, their attempts to hide the horrors in the facilities from reporters and members of Congress, their paying $700-plus a day of taxpayer money to private prison devotees who profit from the misery, and on and on. They have used cruelty as a deterrent, and that is an abomination.
Your loyal commenter DougD, who I’m delighted has found his way to this post, provided a link to a podcast from Malcolm Gladwell that I found quite illuminating. It plays on the Robert Frost poem “Mending Wall,” and is titled “General Chapman’s Last Stand.” It describes the fine public servant, General Leonard Chapman, who headed the INS and–with the best of intentions– implemented strict policy on our southern border to reduce the numbers of Mexicans coming in. It includes analysis from the Mexican Migration Project, conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, which shows how that careful policy backfired because of what you and I have observed in other contexts is the law of unintended consequences. I recommend listening to it.
Yes, this is a mess–and undoubtedly if we’re ever able to reach a compromise (which clearly won’t happen while the President wants to keep feeding red meat to his base and Mitch McConnell revels in his Grim Reaper role of killing all House-passed legislation without allowing discussion), neither side will be completely happy. I simply hope that we don’t further lose our humanity by then–and that we can somehow stop a situation where 11-year-olds take on the responsibility of caring for toddlers they’ve never met because our government has reached a depth of depravity in 2019 that rivals some of the worst events this still-idealistic nation has allowed in its still-brief history.
Unfortunately, we have done nothing in the year since you wrote this to demonstrate that we, as a nation, are either better or smarter than this.
We certainly have not. In fact, the horrors continue—without even the press attention to try to lessen the evil.
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