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.
The White House immigration proposal is a joke.
This is no "concession to Democrats." It's more of the same bigoted crap that's been the hallmark of this administration. Somehow, setting aside $25B for a wall and putting all Dreamers on probation for 10 years is "reasonable."
Trump *created* the problem for Dreamers by killing #DACA. Now we're supposed to jump for joy because he's telling them to walk a tightrope for 10 years? Watch and see how they'll booby trap the hell out of it. See how many Dreamers actually make it across.
And still stuck with the same stupid wall. The wall cannot be part of a DACA fix. Note: I'm not calling it a deal, because fixing something you broke is not "making a deal." It's a responsibility.
This is not The Wall in exchange for Dreamers. It's about owning the system you inherited, the one screwed up by the people who are advising you. It's about simply doing the right thing. America is defined not by its borders, but by the people living within them.
Border security comes from #borderprosperity, not the other way around. And the border will be prosperous when people and ideas can move like goods and services.
To be clear: I'm no open border proponent. But borders and safest and most secure when people aren't shut out. The wall is less a wall and more a dam. That's what we should really call it. And dams build pressure.
And for God's sake, keep families together. Not letting US citizens bring their parents? Is he for real? This is what happens when lawmakers don't push back against the idiotic term "chain migration." It's #FamilyImmigration. Always has been.
So take your little immigration proposal and toss it in the recycling bin.
Go back to the drawing board and show that you're serious about fixing the mess you made revoking DACA, banning Muslims, and killing TPS.
#NoMuslimBanEver #CleanDreamActNow #SaveTPS #ImmigrationReform
I want to talk to immigrants for a minute.
Over the nearly 15 years I've practiced immigration law, I've heard prejudiced statements that would fit right in to what we've been hearing over the past 18 months.
An educated Pakistani woman once told me, "We tried to help her, but you know how those Spanish people are," referring to a proud Latina. A Turk self-righteously complained to me once about all the "black guys smoking weed" across the hall. A Saudi businessman gleeful that a bunch of Filipino workers could be hired at "$200 - $300 a month." A Ghanaian who assured me that another Ghanaian was lying because she could tell the man's tribal affiliation from the shape of his head. An Ivorian blaming Burkinabé for the accession of Ouattara, and a proud Burkinabé with similar contempt for Christian Ivorians. A Congolese slightly miffed when I asked which Congo she was from. A Bolivian mestizo complained to me about a fellow Quechua Bolivian saying they always victimize themselves. An Indian-origin Hong Konger with few redeeming things to say about mainland Chinese.
To quote our President-Elect: "Stop it."
Prejudice may be an easy way of comprehending the world around us, but it's a cop-out. These prejudices are a Godsend to those who benefit from a platform of division.
So STOP IT.
I wish I could show you what I see. The Iranian who loved when I paid cash with bills folded the way common in West Africa (four bills with the fifth folded over; aids in counting). The Latino who responded to my broken Spanish in broken Urdu. The Syrian and the Salvadorean weeping with joy after simply getting the chance to work. The Sunni who married a Shia and raised his daughters Shia. The Ghanaian who couldn't stop talking about Afghan kabob.
So dear immigrants: stop wondering why the Central American kids get work permits while you've waited 10 years for a green card in line. Stop thinking that your lengthy wait to bring your fiancée over gives you a soapbox to decry illegal immigration. If you had an option, consider yourself lucky: many people didn't. If you don't have an option, stop resenting people who did.
Stop blaming other immigrants and put the blame where it belongs: on the system.
You hear what I'm saying? Diversity is good; disorder is not. Our country is a cross-section of humanity like no other. We have a unique opportunity to work on a common purpose. That's right, the election has steeled my resolve. The spike in hate crimes steeled my resolve. The de jure suspicion on my people steeled my resolve. I hope you'll help.
If we are successful, that would be one American ideal I wish we'd export.
I'm leaving Dilley, Texas where I've been volunteering with the CARA project this week. Each day, there were over 100 women with children who had endured a journey toward a most uncertainly secure future.
What do I mean by "uncertainly secure?" It's when you run toward parts unknown because it has to be better than where you are.
As I try to process dealing with just a few days of wave after wave of desperate humanity, I've got to recognize some people. That's the "on the ground" (OTG) team (lawyers and others) who up and moved to Dilley to provide counsel to the thousands of people arriving every day. They do this every single day, arriving at Baby Jail before 8 am, working 12 hour days there, and then back to the ranch where they work on into the night. They've built a lean, mean, legal machine to give these women a chance to reunite with their families. And maybe, in the sobbing words of a ten-year-old detainee I spoke to, just "go to school" and not have to hear older classmates ask each other, "You MS-13 or Mara 18?"
Working with selfless people is humbling and inspirational. This work is exhausting and I can't imagine many be able to last as they do. Listen to what I'm saying: There are young people who willingly give up a comfortable life and utilize their degrees and experience 18 hours a day to help people who wouldn't otherwise stand a chance. Relying on volunteer labor, they help these women - every day - explaining the system, helping them complete the forms, working with ICE, the Asylum Office, and the Correctional Corporation of America (the private company that runs the 2,400 inmate facility). They empower them to tell their own stories, believing in them, and then scour statutes, regulations and case law to fashion razor-sharp legal arguments capable of cutting through the tangled web of asylum law and for-profit detention.
The majority of these women pass their interviews and are granted a chance to apply for asylum, escaping the violence of their home countries, and begin to develop a sense of self-worth. The multi-year battle's just beginning for them, but what they lack in knowledge they more than make up for in grit and determination. The OTG team's work makes real, palpable difference in the lives of thousands of people.
They ask for nothing in return. Nothing.
What an inspiration it was to work for them, and *be* the welcoming America that makes our country great. So many people don't know these everyday heroes and visionaries making a serious dent in the evil practice of family detention. They deserve the best wherever they go. We volunteer lawyers are privileged to have crossed paths with them.
Like my colleagues at the immigration bar, I hear a lot of depressing stories. It's a defense mechanism, I suppose, to not empathize after you've heard dozens, if not hundreds, of such stories. But sometimes, as one of my colleagues put it, there's a fleeting moment when you feel some facsimile of the horror your client felt, and it puts it into perspective. Lawyers obviously have to be objective - but we can't lose our humanity in the process. The trick is to use that empathy as fuel for constructing a winning argument.
This happened to me recently on two asylum cases from Syria.