“The question is not, ‘Who are they?’ The question is, ‘Who are we?’”
Two thought leaders, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) — a leading progressive in the House of Representatives and immigration expert — and Laurene Powell Jobs — a leading philanthropist and advocate for fair immigration policies — are out with must reads.
In an essay for the New York Review of Books, Rep. Jayapal writes a deep-dive essay entitled, “A New Moral Imagination on Immigration.” She calls for immigration policies and a reform agenda in line with with our nation’s core values and best interests. In a time when many are asking what Democrats stand for on immigration, Rep. Jayapal provides a compelling and comprehensive answer.
In a new piece for the New York Times, Laurene Powell Jobs writes an op-ed entitled, “America’s Crisis of Conscience.” She captures the moral moment of truth for the nation brought forth by the revelations that the U.S. government began separating and isolated infants and toddlers as a result of its “zero tolerance” strategy.
Rep. Jayapal’s essay is excerpted below and available online here.
When my parents used all their savings to send me across the oceans from India at the age of sixteen, they made the ultimate sacrifice of separating from their child without knowing if we would ever live on the same continent again. They did so because they believed America was where I would get the best education and have the most opportunity. It took me seventeen years—involving an alphabet soup of visas and the abiding fear that I might not be able to stay in my new home—to get my US citizenship, in 2000. That was a teary and complex moment. Surrounded by people from all over the world, with hands over our hearts, we pledged allegiance to our new country. We knew we were the lucky ones and we were grateful, even as we felt our loss in saying good-bye to the families and countries we had left behind.
… I have become intimately familiar with the policy and the politics of immigration, and I am deeply troubled by the widening divide between the inherent complexity of immigration laws and the simplistic, generally punitive rhetoric that aims to criminalize migration.
… Now it’s more important than ever that Democrats—and any remaining willing Republicans—recapture America’s moral imagination on immigration. Our job is to tell the truth about immigration instead of cowering before falsehoods. Anti-immigrant forces would have us believe that our laws work and that undocumented immigrants prefer to live in the shadows, where they can “game the system” and benefit unfairly from the generosity of taxpayers. The worst thing about this narrative is not that it’s absolutely false, but that it obscures the deep, common desire that all of us—aspiring Americans and those already here—have for one simple thing: an updated, orderly, and effective process for people to come to America, stay, and work here.
… Our prescription for recapturing the moral imagination of immigration must be grounded in a few central principles. We must state clearly our belief that our nation has the right to control who comes in and out at our borders, and knock down the Republican strawman that any Democrat who believes in fixing the immigration system and calls for humane policies actually believes in “open borders.” That is a baseless slander and we should say so.
… We know the basic pillars of immigration reform. As recently as 2013, the United States Senate passed—with a remarkable sixty-eight bipartisan votes—a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have fixed many of the most outdated parts of immigration law. The bill was a major compromise for left and right, setting aside $40 billion over ten years to pay for more border security while creating a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants—including Dreamers –and fixing the outdated family visa caps, processing the immigration backlogs, and addressing the critical workforce needs of employers.
… We can do this, and we must. Imagine a country with immigration laws that actually work. We would know who is in the country, and they would not be hiding in the shadows but getting to know their neighbors, investing in houses and cars, and becoming quintessential Americans. In our country’s history, immigration has never been just about policy. It has always been about who we are and what we are willing to stand up for. That is why a fair and forward-looking immigration system must be at the heart of America’s moral imagination.
Powell Job’s piece is excerpted below and available online here.
The audio went live at 3:51 p.m. on June 18, 2018.
Obtained from a source who risked being fired for releasing it and published by ProPublica, the investigative journalism nonprofit, the recording captured 10 Central American children pleading with agents and consular workers at a United States Customs and Border Protection facility.
The children had been separated from their parents and families as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone apprehended crossing the United States-Mexico border illegally. The audio is seven minutes and 47 seconds of children crying. Again and again, over and over, “Mami!” and “Papá!” A 6-year-old Salvadoran girl begs someone to call an aunt whose number she has memorized. Over their cries, a Border Patrol agent can be heard joking. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he says grimly, chillingly. “What we’re missing is a conductor.”
All of us, to varying degrees, display ignorance about some of the world’s problems. Sometimes we are simply unaware of the suffering of those around us. Other times we are willfully ignorant, choosing, for one reason or another, to deny or ignore some difficult or painful reality. We all have our reasons and our alibis.
But in certain moments that ignorance, whatever its nature, is shattered. Sometimes we are harshly exposed to a truth so unassailable, a sound or image so arresting, that we are unable to shake it from our minds and memory. It is an experience so excruciating that it achieves a most elusive thing — a transformation that politicians, pundits and marketers spend their lives chasing: a shift in how we see the world, an ethical epiphany.
That is what happened when ProPublica published these seven minutes and 47 seconds of audio.
… That recording — those seven minutes and 47 seconds, along with the spotlight trained on the migrant children by journalists, the unprecedented public opposition of two former first ladies and a groundswell of grass-roots condemnation — was truly a howl heard round the world, a spark that turned our simmering debate on immigration into a conflagration. And from the standpoint of justice, the fire was welcome.
… Sadly, reports indicate that some families continue to be separated.
At least one child, a 20-month-old Guatemalan girl named Mariee, died after falling ill in federal custody. And even those who have been reunited with their families may suffer long-term consequences from the trauma they endured.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has shown no signs of backing down on its larger ambition of curbing immigration — legal and illegal alike — and dismantling America’s traditions as a refuge for the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses.
What is required, then, in 2019 and beyond, is not only a reversal of an immigration agenda sharply at odds with this country’s highest ideals, or an end to the hateful and divisive rhetoric deployed on its behalf. What we need is something more: a shift in our hearts, an expansion of our capacity for moral understanding.
“I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country,” James Baldwin once remarked about another crisis of conscience in America in the 1960s.
We, too, must fear apathy as we face of our own crisis of conscience. The migrant children and families who are lawfully making their way to the United States today are similar in virtually every respect to those who have arrived in this country — and contributed so much to its success — since our earliest days.
Why can’t we see that these newcomers possess exactly those values and attributes — perseverance, self-reliance and an inspiring determination to give their children a shot at a better life — that we have always esteemed as quintessentially American?
The fundamental question we must answer as we wrestle with immigration in this country is not — and never has been — about a particular set of immigrants themselves.
The question is not, “Who are they?” The question is, “Who are we?”