So much has been written about separating families. Between fielding inquiries, helping clients, and trying to contextualize this latest act in the ongoing clown show that is this administration, I've also felt the ongoing nauseating mix of despair and disgust so many of you have expressed to me.
But perhaps not for exactly the same reasons.
Sure, I feel despair at not being able to just end family separation. And disgust at the administration that first celebrated it, and now (like clockwork) tries to deny it.
But I despair for another reason: that there is no unified alternative narrative. I am disgusted at the hate movements that successfully created their narrative.
I despair that we are once again pulling out our water pistols to put out yet another fire, instead of taking out their flamethrower. I am disgusted at the complacency of people who legitimize that narrative by trying to find a half-baked common ground with it. And I despair at the enormity of the task at hand, disgusted that this is where we are.
Here are some unvarnished truths:
1. The laws permitting these atrocities have been on the books for years.
2. There is a lot of money in the business of human detention. I mean, incarceration.
3. At least on the immigration side, the haters have a 40 year headstart. (The Federation for American Immigration
Reform is the granddaddy of the modern anti-immigrant movement, founded in 1979)
4. If you think this is bad, wait and see what happens when the laws themselves are rewritten instead of just being interpreted as cruelly as possible. Wait and see what Jeff Sessions & Co. have in store.
I'm matter-of-factly glad that there is attention being paid to the due process free zone known as our southern border. I'm glad there is so much outrage. But it's as useless as a bunch of water pistols if not properly channeled. The thing about fires is they have to be put out. But if we're not working toward a common goal, we'll never take out the flamethrower.
So to put out fires, I recommend donating to RAICES, CLINIC, Al Otro Lado, the American Immigration Council, and the Texas Civil Rights Project. These folks have been on the ground since before #FamiliesBelongTogetherstarted trending. (It's a Trumpy outgrowth of the primary evil: family detention. Sorry - family incarceration.
But all this advocacy can be focused. We can no longer accept the prevailing framing of the issues. No, we must not only fight back, but create an alternative. So I have a few more concrete suggestions.
1. Scream it from the rooftops. Seeking asylum is a human right.
2. Stop criminalizing brown and black bodies, or the exercise of human rights by brown and black bodies.
3. Don't be afraid to call out white nationalism. Learn to recognize it. Calling out bigotry never gets old: don't let them tell you any different.
4. Associate the word "immigrant" with "future citizen," or "aspiring American" whenever possible, and repeatedly.
5. Not "they." Us.
6. Let's start talking about citizenship law, not just immigration law. And let's not conflate immigration law with deportation law.
7. Let's raise the term "prosperous border," not "border security." Let's not conflate border security with border militarization.
8. Let's put some blame where it belongs: the government renders people "undocumented" by actively dedocumenting them. "Document" is a verb.
9. Immigration is the cure for cultural stagnation. America is not a pie that needs dividing. It's a whole kitchen.
10. Our country is defined by its people, not its borders.
Don't just resist.
This week has been like a sucker punch to the gut. And it's not because, objectively, there was more tyranny in the world this week than last. But it's only human to feel punches that land close to home, especially in fights that you've been a part of, against opponents you've studied and come to know well.
Separating children from families. The Muslim ban being upheld. The prospect of the highest court in the land stacked with judges who will presumably rule against oppressed people. This week, it happened in my lane.
I would have liked to go into a legal analysis of the Muslim ban. Or explain how the government never had a plan, nor a procedure, to reunite the families they needlessly ripped apart. But it does little good except in lawyers' circles.
I would have also liked to tell stories of clients I know who were affected by the ban, or the hopelessness when I tell them their asylum claim would likely be denied, or that yes, the law will keep changing, and it will probably get worse. Humanize, they say. Uplift the stories. People will be moved and there will be real change. But it seemed so hopeless. They don't see us as human beings. Why would they care?
And then I remembered my grandfather.
Which is strange, because I never met him. His name was Hakeem Maulvi Muhammad Chiragh-ud-Din. He was a traditional physician and became heavily involved in politics in pre-partition India. As a religious scholar, he held provincial chairmanship in the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind (Organization of Religious Scholars of India) which, in the 1930's and 1940's, supported the Congress Party's vision of an undivided India and strongly endorsed the Gandhian vision of Hindu-Muslim unity. A fiery speaker in Urdu, Persian, and Punjabi, he was jailed frequently by the British raj for speaking out against colonial rule. (He spoke almost no English, but my father tells me he used the word "agitation" frequently.) However, polarization, division, and hatred on both sides made the partition of the Subcontinent nearly inevitable. After his release from prison in 1943, he turned down offers of political positions in India and, like 14 million others, fled to what would become Pakistan in what is still one of the largest, bloodiest, and traumatic forced displacement of refugees in history.
On the 14th of August 1947, he spoke to his village as the first Pakistani flag (which my father spent the first night in his new country sewing) was hoisted. He reminded them that they had been minorities and were now a majority, the British were gone, and now the few Hindus and Sikhs that remained were their responsibility to protect.
I found myself thinking about my grandfather this week. I wonder when he accepted that Hindu-Muslim disunity would split his native land, and how complicated his feelings toward his new country must have been. After Partition, he stepped down from politics and returned to the practice of medicine, never charging a single patient again until his death in 1957.
I wonder what he would have made of Trump's America?
I think he would have counseled to never stop speaking truth to power, even when you're going to lose.
He would have continued to call for unity despite the fact that the two sides were killing each other.
He would have related the time his elder son (my uncle) rode on Gandhi's shoulders as a 9 year old boy, at a time when
Hindus and Muslims lived in complete segregation. (Imagine a white man drinking from the colored fountain.)
He would have reminded the majority that it was their responsibility to ensure the rights of minorities were protected.
He would have told us to find a way to serve others no matter what.
He would have urged us to stick to principle, no matter what they called you.
He would have told us to vote, as he had once urged the people of Sagar, India, keeping a yellow vote box to make sure no one was left out.
He would have told us to not lose "himmat" (resolve) because we still have institutions and the majority.
And I think he would have echoed Mahatma Gandhi and said simply, full effort is full victory.