As the images of children being torn away from their parents dominates our news, I find myself having more questions than answers. I am not a politician. I am not an attorney. I am not in any position which could affect policy, law, or direct change to this situation.
I am however, dismayed and bewildered by the lack of empathy and humanity in not only our leaders who do possess that power, but in other Americans. Those who feel that we don’t bear the responsibility of helping others seeking to come to our country have ignored the question that should drive our policies and response to this overwhelming situation.
Why are refugees seeking asylum in our country in the first place?
The families that are coming to our borders seeking asylum, either through legal or illegal channels, are not doing it on a whim. They aren’t at home on a Tuesday, having a barbecue and watching Wheel of Fortune thinking, “ You know what we should do tomorrow? We should take the kids and all of the possessions that we can carry and take a dangerous trek to a country that doesn’t want us. Sound fun?”
The people who are fleeing to the United States are doing so because, generally, they have no other choice. Their country is unsafe. They are unable to feed their children. They are in danger of being murdered, or raped, or sold into human trafficking. The people who would risk their lives and the lives of their children are running because if they don’t run, they will die. By running, they at least have a chance.
Refugees are not animals who are coming to the United States to steal all of our resources and drain our economy and use our medicine and sell us drugs and bring us gang violence. I am not denying that these things exist. However, I’m confident in saying that the majority of refugees don’t fit into any of these categories. In fact, studies have shown that by in large, American communities in which refugees are resettled have a large drop in crime rates, and not the other way around. https://research.newamericaneconomy.org/report/is-there-a-link-between-refugees-and-u-s-crime-rates/
These are desperate, terrified people simply trying to survive. They are looking for a way to live in relative peace with their families. They are good people, who happen to be in a very bad situation through no fault of their own.
That is why I care. Because those refugees didn’t choose where they were born. They didn’t choose their parents, their ethnicity, their race, their nationality. They didn’t choose their situation, any more than I chose mine. I recognize that it should be the responsibility of countries to save their own people, but our country is at the crucial point of needing to recognize that if our neighbors are in trouble, we are in trouble. We can’t simply build a wall and ignore what is on the other side. We are not an insular nation, and the collapse of countries past our southern border does affect us. I understand the concept of “tough love” in leadership; insisting that other countries get their act together on their own because we’ve helped enough. The problem with this solution is that it ignores the very real and human aspect of this crisis. The refugees are the terrible casualties in this battle. This will continue to ricochet for generations.
I often wonder if the phrase, “Proud to be an American” adequately describes my feelings about my nation. I would say that I have always been extremely grateful to be an American. I am proud that my father was in military and served our country to protect our freedom. I would say that I am privileged to be an American. I am lucky to be an American. I didn’t choose to be an American though. It was simply the fact that I was born where I was born to the parents that I was born to. It’s a fact, but there is no merit to it. I don’t deserve it more than anyone else deserves to be born in an impoverished, dangerous country.
As the saying goes, with great privilege comes great responsibility. We are, whether we want to admit it or not, a country of privilege. We are not the underdogs, and we have never been the underdogs. We have more than enough to go around, but we are acting like children, refusing to share our toys. Holding our possessions tightly in our arms with the fear that if we allow anyone else to have the same, it will somehow diminish our own stash. We have difficulty sharing even within our own borders, with laws designed to make the rich richer and keep the poor down. But don’t let that fool you. There is enough wealth in our country to take care of all of our own citizens, and extend a hand to those who need it.
When I dropped my son and daughter off at summer camp yesterday, I told my son to keep an eye out for his little sister, and I told my daughter to keep an eye on the younger children that were in her bunk. We have a responsibility as humans to look out for the other humans around us. When we see someone in need, we should help. You can’t cure all ills, you can’t solve all problems, but you can do what you can do. It is called empathy, compassion with action, and it is the most human trait in of all humanity. You can take care of yourself and your family, and still find a way to extend your good fortune to those around you who did not have the privilege of being born in a country such as ours.
Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money. My parents scrimped and saved, and made do with very little to give us a good life. Yet they still found ways to give back to the community. They ran a food bank. They donated garden vegetables to hungry families from our church. If a kid needed clothes, they went to Goodwill and bought them clothes. They took the little that they had, and they made it more by giving it away, and none of us suffered for it. They could have easily turned their backs on others by claiming their own financial hardships, but instead they gave what they had, recognizing their privilege, even as it looked like poverty compared to others.
I don’t have a solution for the immigration and asylum debate. Every immigrant that I have had the privilege of getting to know is extremely hard working and grateful to have a life in the United States. When you have more mouths to feed, you can’t forget that you also have more hands to work. Immigrants and refugees contribute greatly to our communities. They don’t want handouts. They want the chance to work, live, and sleep at night with their children safely by their sides. I am in no position to deny anyone this gift that I myself have been undeservedly given.
That is why I care. Because I recognize that it could be me on the other side of that imaginary line. These women, these mothers, are me. These men, these fathers, are my husband. These children, these babies, are my children.
Refugees and immigrants, these humans, are us. We need to respond accordingly.
You may call me naive. You may call me unrealistic. You may call me a liberal bleeding heart. You may call me a fool. At the end of the day, I am all of these things, and none of these things. What I am is a human, seeing the suffering in other humans, and refusing to accept that it is acceptable.