OPED: The honor of being an ally for undocumented immigrants
In December, I went to the Capitol in Washington to participate in what may have been the largest rally of immigrants and their supporters in American history. Along with other allies and advocates, I put my freedom on the line to protect the Dreamers and those with Temporary Protective Status (TPS recipients). It was an honor to join people of various backgrounds, including a Congressman, to defend the historical and sacred diversity of this nation.
How did I arrive at this point? For 30 years I have taught English as a Second Language as a volunteer tutor to immigrants. Engineers, medical professionals, food workers, mechanics — people from all walks of life — have been my students. Some are here with documents, others are not.
Recently, I have taught English to immigrant detainees at the York County Prison. These people are no different from the ancestors of nearly all of us, except that there were no anti-immigration laws when our ancestors came from Europe. Had my ancestors come today, they would have to come without documents too.
Peoples’ stories vary but are inevitably heart wrenching. One does not leave one’s homeland and family, at great risk and expense, without good reason. Among my students are the following:
- A gay Muslim whose father, a Jihadist, tried to kill him when he was found with his gay lover. After arriving in South America he walked to the US-Mexican border, made no attempt to enter surreptitiously but instead presented himself to authorities and asked for asylum. He was welcomed with a pair of handcuffs and incarcerated.
- A man, who grew up Muslim, but after meeting Christians, tried to convert to Christianity. His angry father and others attacked him, forcing him to flee his home to America.
- Both of Paul’s parents were killed in the Haitian earthquake; destitute, he came here to work at age 18, but instead was put into prison.
- Because he was persecuted, an Iraqi Christian was granted asylum after the 2003 war our government led. ICE did a “sweep” picking up him and 1400 other Iraqis living in the US in March 2017.
- Forced into a Communist army as a teenager into fighting a civil war, he eventually helped a fellow draftee flee their country. That nation’s army tortured him, and escaped to York where he has lived for over 20 years.
None of these people have been given asylum or legal status despite numerous attempts by legal services; some have already been deported and others continue to live in constant fear that the will be deported. This is justice?
Attacks on immigrants have been relentless under Donald Trump. His administration has pandered to the darker side of all of us — fear of those who are different, and especially people of color. Recently the President demonstrated this when he said that we should be welcoming people from Norway as immigrants but not those from “s---hole countries in Africa and Haiti.” The xenophobic immigration policies that separate families weaken, not strengthen, our country.
What is Rep. Perry’s opinion? As usually happens, he sides with Trump. He backs a wall that is estimated to cost $15 - $20 billion and wants 10,000 more border patrol agents despite knowing the following:
- The majority of undocumented immigrants are not new arrivals. They have been here 10 years or longer and have at least one American child. They came here on a valid visa, not by illegally crossing the border. A wall would not have stopped them.
- Undocumented immigrants have lower crime rates than citizens and pay billions of dollars in taxes, for example, to Social Security that they will not receive.
- A path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would help the American economy grow, create jobs, and increase tax revenues.
- The majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
What we need are leaders,not like President Donald Trump and Rep. Scott Perry, but more like Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen.Casey, those who represent compassion and wisdom, working to unite and honor the sacred diversity of this nation.
— Carol Stowell is a Paradise Township resident, former educator and member of Indivisible York.