Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bringing Love to the Immigration Conversation

“I may not agree with it all, but I love you for what you’re doing.”

This was not the closing comment I had expected from a self-identified “businessman, ardent capitalist, and, conservative.”

We had spent the past hour discussing one of the most politically divisive issues of our time: immigration. As an immigrant justice advocate in this discussion, I did not even think love would come up, and certainly not for the task at hand- opposing the construction of 1,100 more beds at the immigrant detention center in Aurora.

Then again, perhaps love is really the point.

Immigration has become such a political hot button that real humanity gets lost in the discussion. We get caught up in the buzzwords and fear-mongering, and we lose the heart.

“John,” we’ll call my conversation-mate, is moved by love, along with his own economic self-interest, when he talks about his best young worker, an immigrant from Central America. John believes “Carlos” deserves the opportunity to make a better life for himself, to make enough money at his job to ultimately go to school.

John, like most Americans I know, believes we should all have the opportunity to work hard and go far. And John admits wanting to sponsor Carlos so that he can get legal status to be in the country and pursue all the opportunities this country has to offer.

Of course, “It’s not quite so easy,” I have to explain. John can’t simply help Carlos fix his immigration status. That is one of the myths many of us believe, that it is easy enough to immigrate “the legal way.”

Most folks who actually know an immigrant and have explored avenues for legalization or family reunification are the first to understand that our nation’s policies require a complete overhaul. Love, we are told when we try to get people rights or reunite families, is beside the point.

Just last week, an Aurora City Council Member asked for some support for an immigrant family quite dear to her. She recently had met the father, a Filipino immigrant, legal permanent resident, and health care professional. The man told her of his family’s failed attempts to bring their three-year-old child to the US.

I looked into it and, saddened, came up with the same conclusion as the attorney’s with whom this man had consulted. According to the current visa bulletin, which outlines wait times for legal immigration to the US, it will be 5-7 years before this family can be reunited with their infant son.

One has to conclude that the US visa system does not take love, or the wrenching pain of divided families, into account. Neither does a proposal to triple the size of the immigrant detention center in Aurora, making it the largest facility of its kind in the country’s interior. Immigrant detention is pretty ghastly. Just check out these recent reports about mass sexual assault, untimely detainee death and generally abhorrent conditions:

Regardless of the flood of scandals, if you think about the premise of immigrant detention at all- locking good, hard-working families up in prison facilities because there is no good way for them to get “legal” status- well, there isn’t much love in that.

But can a self-proclaimed conservative and I, the leftist of left, sit at the same table, discussing the issue of immigration, and agree that love is really what this whole immigration discussion should be about? It seems so. He chose that language of “love”, not me.

Love. Simple and deep.

In the struggle for social justice, we often talk about “changing hearts and minds,” cultivating a new debate where people value humanity above profits and xenophobia. Yet John, “businessman, ardent capitalist, and, conservative,” has taught me something. What if it’s not necessary to change hearts and minds, but simply connect the two?

When it comes to our country’s conversation about immigration, one of the most controversial, politicized, and hateful debates there is- how much further could we get if we just brought a little love to the table?

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