I was at a dinner party recently explaining my frustration with the absence of any movement on a comprehensive immigration policy. I received some sympathetic nods (similar to the ones I probably give when someone tells me about the insufficiency of the U.S.’s climate change policy) but got the feeling I wasn’t really making my point. I went further–shifting into an emotionally charged argument about my father (an immigrant), the insensitivity to the plight of immigrants, and the horror of Alabama, Arizona, and Hazelton. I felt myself becoming hysterical, checked it, but then wondered why. Another attendee agreed with my assessment and likened my frustration to her own with the Administration’s education policy. “But this is different,” I pleaded. The conversation ended but I left feeling that I hadn’t been able to convince anyone in the room that failure on immigration was any different than any other “issue.”
And why is it? Chico Rei pushed me on this one and I was hard pressed to come up with anything other than a rambling speech about humanity, dignity, and other big words that don’t mean anything inside the Beltway. But after trying to explain its importance over and over in policy language and legalese, I have decided that I’m okay with “It just is” as an answer to the question.
Lots of issues implicate the future of this country, our dedication to the American ethos, the success of nation. But a failure to really address immigration policy, to address the dehumanizing aspects of both federal and state policy, to pretend like we don’t see the struggles of millions of people who work and live right next to “us” says something more troubling to me than partisan gridlock over tax cuts. Like the African-American struggle for civil rights (yes, I’m going there), the refusal to create an immigration policy that recognizes the inherent rights of all people indicates striking callousness. We have become comfortable with the reality that millions of people, many of which are children, literally live in fear of deportation and endure countless indignancies without the basic protection of the law. Most of the current immigration debate fails to even mention the real consequences of inaction- families torn apart by ICE raids, parents unable to take their children to a doctor, migrant farmworkers being subjected to physical and sexual abuse with no recourse. We know that these people live amongst us yet we are fine with the second (tenth?)-class status. Sounds a little too familiar, right? Today, when we read the history of the Jim Crow era, we think how incredible it was that any politician asked blacks to “be patient” or suggest that civil rights was a “black issue.” I fail to see why the same urgency cannot be applied to the 10 million undocumented immigrants who live in the U.S. Chico Rei tells me its indifference, not hate, that drives this complacency but the net effect is just the same.
Maybe that’s not a convincing enough argument for Congress but it does it for me. I fear that as long as people see immigration as a niche issue affecting only one portion of the population, it will remain just that- an unchecked box on someone’s political agenda.