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.