Life is so short and so hard for so many people. Have you seen these images yet? It's so strange to live a life where one weekend your sisters are visiting and you're drinking coffee in the North End, and then the next weekend the world is terrified. You guys there is so much to be terrified of in the world. You are reading the words of the one of the most terrified people on earth -- A literally has to drag me kicking and screaming onto planes and even particularly long elevator rides because I am so scared of being high up in the air. I am scared of bridges and submarines and I am even petrified that gravity will stop working and I will float into space. Space is terrifying you guys! #1 fear!
But I'm not scared of refugees.
When did refugee become a bad word? When did the stateless, fleeing violence, become so terrifying to us? It's all wrapped up into one big complicated knot: our fear of immigrants, our militarization of the border, our push for "state's rights" limits on immigration. It all feeds into each other until we think the only way to be safe is to only be surrounded by people who look and sound exactly like us.
Today, at work, I worked on an asylum claim for a man not from Syria, but from another place from which we have historically been hesitant to accept asylum seekers. When you work on an immigration case, you hold someone's life in your hands, both quite literally in many cases, but also figuratively. With each case, I get a file that contains someones entire life story. And gosh, we are all hurting in this world. We are all moving through it trying desperately to do what is best. But my "desperation," for a good nights sleep and to finish law school is not the same desperation felt by people fleeing their home country.
I was talking with maybe the person who understands more than anyone why I want to be an immigration attorney, because she also wants to be an immigration attorney and its hard for both of us to explain WHY exactly this is the work we must do in the world, but between us it makes sense. We both immediately said that in the wake of the attacks on Paris, we feared not an terrorist attack on the U.S., but the inevitable backlash against Muslims that we saw after 9/11. Sure enough, I woke up on Saturday to a newsfeed full of reports of vicious hate crimes and threats -- against a woman in a headscarf picking her kids up in Toronto and, apparently, the entire city of Dearborn, MI
Racism and xenophobia, and then, where it really connects to work: when it all comes around to "immigration policy," and people talk as if DAPA (President Obama's executive action on immigration that is currently stalled in litigation) itself bombed Paris. It's exploitative to connect people's fear of Islam and Muslims to our immigration policy. It's predatory and petty and mean, and it works. Gosh, we've been talking about "terrorists coming over the border" since 9/11, but that doesn't make it true.
It just makes us scared. And we do stupid things when we're scared -- like refuse Jewish refugees during WWII, or fence Japanese Americans in internment camps.
So lets not be scared.
I had an immigration job interview yesterday, and in the space between us (or the pixels? it was over skype) there was just this big, unspoken question of what the immigration landscape will be like when I'm barred and practicing in 2016. Will it be a humanitarian disaster? Will DAPA happen? Literally millions of lives hinge on what is to come next, and all I can do it wait, and try to speak light into the darkness.