You live in America. You were born here. You’ve never experienced war, famine, persecution, abject poverty, or genocide. You have not feared for your life or the lives of your loved ones: family, friends and children. You believe that illegal immigration is a problem. You say, “build the wall.” You want illegal immigrants to be held accountable. After all, they are breaking the law and they must suffer the consequences. Even if the consequences mean families are torn apart. Children live in fear that their parents will be taken away from them. But some people don’t care because the issue is black and white to them. They see the words of the law but they ignore the faces of those who are suffering. I am trying to understand what makes people so indifferent to the plight of immigrants. Why are people so hard on them? Why do people treat them like hardened criminals? We’ve heard the argument that immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans. But if we’re honest we’ll admit that they are doing the jobs that no one else wants to do. We also know that jobs are being sourced out to call centers in other countries, but no one seems to be in an uproar about this. We’ve heard the argument that immigrants, specifically Mexican ones, are dangerous. But every violent shooting spree I have seen on the news ends up being a white man, 9 times out of 10. So, let’s be real. People aren’t really worried about losing their jobs. People aren’t trying to ban immigrants from America because it’s going to magically make this country a safer place. These are just covers for the truth.
The truth is that people living in America, who want to villainize immigrants, have simply had it too easy. They are complacent and entitled, which is a troubling combination of traits for any person to have. They are entitled, thinking that because they were born here they are “inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” They think that they were born here so naturally this must be their land. It is their land to control and protect. They get to decide who lives here and who doesn’t. Only they deserve the freedoms granted in this country. All of the perks associated with living in America are for them and no one else. They want to get ahead while holding others back. They take advantage of the benefits while never having to struggle or fight for them. They have not had to live in terror or wake up to violence and conflict every day. They have had it too good for too long and they have forgotten about those who don’t. This has made them not only entitled but also complacent. They see no reason to change things or to help people who are worse off than they are. They are pleased with their situation, living in America as citizens, and enjoying all of the advantages that come with that. But they are unaware, or choose to be unaware, of the dangers that others are facing. They ignore the possibility that danger could one day arrive on their very own doorstep. One day the tables could very well turn.
What would happen if America somehow became an unsafe place? What if you were living here and all of a sudden war came to your turf? Or the government became so corrupt that the people could no longer enjoy the freedoms they thought were safe? Or you could no longer afford to feed and provide for your family? So many people who were previously against immigration would suddenly be seriously considering it for themselves and their families. They wouldn’t sit around and suffer if there was a place they could get to that would be safer and more prosperous. After all, as Warsan Shire writes in her poem Home, “you have to understand that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Immigrants are not coming to America to take our jobs or to make our lives more difficult. They are not coming here just because they wanted a change of scenery and felt like risking their lives for it. They are coming here out of desperation. They are coming here because where they live, their land, is not safe. They are coming here because they do not have the freedom to live a decent, basic life where they are. Immigrating to America, especially illegally, is already a risk. Nobody is going to take that risk for themselves and their loved ones unless they feel like they have no choice. Nobody wakes up and decides to come to America just because it’s a Tuesday. They are coming to America because they are afraid for their lives and they feel driven to do so. Or they are lacking so many basic necessities that they feel their very survival depends on it. They are not going to brave the water, unless the land is pushing them into it. Another way Shire puts it in her poem is, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” I would venture to say that most Americans don’t know what it’s like to feel like home is a shark’s mouth. And because they don’t have this perspective they find it so easy to judge those who do. They see the people fleeing to America and judge them harshly. But they don’t stop to see, to really understand, what those people are running from. Because it is not just that people are coming to America illegally, it is that they are running from something or someone. They are fighting to make their lives better, for themselves and for their children. And who among us wouldn’t do the same? Anyone can say that they wouldn’t, that they wouldn’t break the law. But it is easy to say that when you are already safe. No one knows what they would really do until they are put into that situation. I am certain that every person that has ever had anything negative to say about illegal immigrants would become one in a heartbeat if the ground suddenly became too dangerous to stand on and their only hope for survival was on a boat that was headed for a country they did not belong to.
Imagine running for your life and arriving in a new country where you hope to start over and build a better future. Now imagine walking down the street and before you can breathe and settle in your newfound safety, you are greeted by derogatory names and shouts of “go back to where you came from, you don’t belong here.” Amidst these accusatory shouts you are walking by the country’s symbol of freedom and words are jumping out at you that seem to be in direct opposition to what you are hearing: “mother of exiles,” “from her beacon hand glows world wide welcome,” “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” You are confused. This symbol of freedom is welcoming you here, but the people are not. Your eyes linger on the words and you can’t help but wonder when you will be able to breathe free. You certainly can’t go back to where you came from so you stay. You endure the hate because for now you are safe, at least safer than before. This could have been you or me if we had been born in a different country. If you were born in America and never had to immigrate here then you’re lucky, not special. You’re not owed things just because you’re already here. Don’t forget that what you have was taken away from the natives that first lived here. You’re living on stolen property. It’s not yours to stake a claim in. Since you’re lucky enough to be here and enjoy the benefits, you might want to learn to share. This could be you or me at any point in our lives. Just because the land you live in is safe today, doesn’t mean it will be the same tomorrow. When your home becomes dangerous, it’s a thin line between remaining a citizen and becoming an immigrant searching for relief.
Let us no longer be entitled and complacent when we are all a product of immigration (aside from those who were already here.) And now that we are here, after a long line of immigrants, we shouldn’t be so willing and quick to turn our backs on other immigrants. Let’s not turn a blind eye to other people’s suffering. Let’s let those tired and weary souls breathe free when they set foot in our country. Let our actions and our speech reflect what our country stands for, what it’s supposed to stand for. Let our country be the land of the free and a home for all. All people, all races, all religions, and all beliefs.