I might be an immigration lawyer, but I'm also a citizenship lawyer. Or maybe I'm just a citizenship lawyer. Because that's the end goal for all our clients, even though not all of them will make it there.
I remember the first time I voted after I started practicing. Such a simple act. And though I was still a newbie, I knew enough to know that there were millions of people going through a hellish maze to win the right to take that simple act. That belief has been reinforced with every vote since.
Virginia votes tomorrow for its new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and a host of delegates. Sitting across the river from the torrent of hate spewing out of Washington, DC, we know what's at stake.
Republican candidate Ed Gillespie says he represents all Virginians. I'm here to tell you that there are thousands of Americans - aspiring and otherwise - in Virginia who would beg to differ. You see, many of them come from places where their rights can (and are) taken away with impunity. Those are the ones who understand the importance of their say in government even if they are disillusioned at the process.
Gillespie supports the Muslim ban, but he says he's for all Virginians. He wants to burden law enforcement with the responsibilities of ICE so that more people can be detained and fed into a private prison, but he says he's for all Virginians. He casts my clients in with criminal death cults like MS-13, but he says he's for all Virginians. Perhaps he should rethink his own Irish roots and remember what it was like for his community when they came to the United States.
The torrent of hate might not affect you. Maybe your life will pretty much be the same no matter who wins.
But it affects your neighbor who might not have a voice. Or your children's classmates. Or your close friend. Or just someone in need trying to make it. What would you tell them, that you won a birth lottery and you didn't do your part to speak up for them?
I'll never forget a sweet old woman from El Salvador who, when asked whether she would perform noncombatant services in the armed forces said, "Well if they send me I'll make them frijoles!" Another client told me she treated the civics exam more importantly than her university entrance exam in Nepal. Others who proudly cast their vote for the first time after waiting for decades to comply with the requirements. Still others who used to be undocumented, living for years under the radar, but were able to find a way to win their citizenship through a very tortuous, uncertain process.
Your vote is your voice. And it's also a voice for the voiceless. Tomorrow's election in Virginia is a referendum on Trumpism. Tomorrow will say whether #resist is more than just a hashtag. The GOP have their differences, but they fall in line and come out en masse. Tomorrow will be no different. We are going to build an inclusive America, a compassionate country that does not succumb to the tide of hatred, and one that values the contributions of all its people regardless of where they come from. That's Ralph Northam. That's Justin Fairfax. That's Mark Herring. #GameOnVA.
You have the right to keep silent. If you do, remember: you're silencing someone else, too.