You marched and Tweeted against this latest abhorrent injustice in America- the rage over the children separated from parents and abused in detention centers. Now what?
We are grateful to the journalists who documented these horrors and woke the world up with the sound of the babies crying. Our hearts are broken at the thought of babies and toddlers in detention, alone at night, forced to stand trial and traumatized beyond understanding. We marched, shared and Tweeted but I just keep hearing desperate, kindhearted, and well-intentioned white people around me say, “I wish I could do more.” Doing nothing is making us feel guilty and complicit, realizing what we are: Silent bystanders to massive injustices against immigrants and brown/black people in America. We are silent bystanders and we benefit from white privilege on a daily basis- these are facts. I stand accused of this myself, everyday.
The bad news is that we cannot reunite the immigrant families in detention because the only people who can are those who were cruel enough to have enforced this illegal and inhumane disaster in the first place. More bad news: These families are not the only souls suffering at the hands of ICE. According to the PEW Research Center,”ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations made a total of 143,470 arrests in fiscal 2017, a 30% rise from fiscal 2016. From [Trump’s] Jan. 20 inauguration to the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, ICE made 110,568 arrests, 42% more than in the same time period in 2016.”
Here is the good news: There is a lot you can do to help heal these wounds. If your heart is crying for those babies and kids in detention, use those feelings as fuel to find new immigrants, asylum-seekers, or refugees in your community and give them a hand. Immigrants are all around us and we can use our privilege to ease their absorption and acclimation. Those new to our shores settle everywhere, to look for work, education, to start their lives. Immigrants who have been detained by ICE, most of whom have done nothing criminal and may have legal refugee or asylum status, need even more help after they are released as they heal from horrible conditions, malnutrition and trauma.
The hardest part is mustering up the courage to leave our comfort zone- but this is nothing compared to what our new neighbors face. Find a local organization- a sanctuary city or church, community board, or a local NGO that helps immigrants- and get involved. Organize or attend a potluck ‘welcome’ dinner for new immigrants. Introduce yourself to someone who looks nothing like you and whom you know nothing about. Cross the aisle and shake a hand or share a smile. For someone just leaving a detention center or other life-threatening circumstance, that simple act could be a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. You can invite a new family over for dinner- cook or order pizza, let your kids play together and ask the parents questions. Where are they from? What is it like there? What did they do for work before coming to the US? What would they like to do now? Is there anything they need?
For those of us born and established in the US, we have control of the English language, social capital (friends from childhood and college, colleagues, connections) and an understanding of American cultural norms. These things enable us to find and sustain a job, create positive rapport with doctors and public servants, but for a new immigrant to the US, American norms like over-politeness (thank you letters/emails), embellished punctuality (arriving 10 minutes early to a meeting or interview) or expected dress codes are a mystery as well as a road block to success. If you befriend someone new to your area, you can offer these tips, reach out to them and ask if you can help guide them through this new world- in small, respectful doses. Some folks need help getting their driver’s license (hard to work without a car) or navigating pubic transportation systems (and their websites/apps, ugh), recommendations for a job or help (or access to a computer) searching for work. Show them your public library, and introduce them to the librarian. Every minute you spend helping your new friend and their family, you will know that you are a part of the solution and the silent bystander feeling will fade away.
I can attest to this because I am living this experience right now. I’m not writing that story out of respect and privacy, but I guarantee you that for every awkward moment in getting to know someone quite different from yourself (asking her where she’s from 5 times and having to google where exactly that is), there are great moments of joy and fulfillment. She is a part of my extended family now. We are better for knowing her and we are so proud of her accomplishments in this past year.
This country, and maybe the world, is a dark place right now- but you have a light you can share. White privilege can only support a racist system if we let it. If you can help one good person who came here to make a better life for their family- help them find a job, get medical care if they need, find a decent lawyer who won’t cheat them, or show them the Atlantic Ocean for the first time – you will be doing your part. Want to help reunite families and heal those little hearts? Start by opening yours up to a new immigrant. These are small steps that create big change.
Important things not-to-do, for the well-meaning soul:
- Do not ask random people who are not white and may have accents, “Where are you from?” This is racist. Seek out new immigrants who need help through the proper channels so the meeting is mutual.
- Do not pry into someone’s personal life. This relationship, like all relationships, should be consensual and mutual. If you are offering to help or befriend someone, this doesn’t mean they owe you their painful story. Respect privacy and trauma. Allow people to share what they want, as they feel comfortable. Build trust,and share your own story over time.
- Don’t compare hardships. Being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism, or being a woman and facing sexism, is not the same as being jailed by ICE or the discrimination new immigrants face every time they open their mouths to speak in public.
- Don’t be ashamed of your abundance- share it. Have a pool or a guest pass to the community pool? Invite your friend, offer their kids borrow swim suits, you bring the snacks. We are so blessed and the only shame in that is if we don’t share.
- Don’t assume. Ask.
So much more to do:
- If you have the money, you can and should support the ACLU who are fighting these battles in court against ridiculous Administration representatives, or contribute bail/bond funds for the separated families through RAICES.
- Get out the vote in November. There are ways to support candidates in key swing states, and motivate ALL people to vote- especially young people. Check out Swing Left to get involved in midterm elections to help flip the House. Most importantly- talk to the white women and young people around you about how they are voting. Offer rides, sign up for transport or canvassing in your area.