Here are some thoughts on Father’s Day (even though it isn’t Father’s Day in New Zealand until September.)
A year ago today our immigration process had just gotten underway. I would’ve told you it was difficult.
It wasn’t. It was complicated, but easy. We arrived in New Zealand as a family with a place to live, albeit a temporary one, and our belongings on the way.
Today, there are asylum-seeking people who walk into the US with everything they own and the first thing that happens is they lose their children.
I cannot stop thinking about it. We’re the same – parents looking for a better life for their children. I had more privilege to wield and more support, but there’s fundamentally nothing different about EV and I compared to the children being torn away from their parents at the borders of America.
I have made a lot of difficult, life-altering choices in the past five years for the sake of being a parent – choices I would have never made before a child existed in my life. Every one was so she could gain access to some aspect of life, some aspect of happiness, that I was not afforded.
To think that there are parents out there making harder choices, ones motivated by the realities of violence and poverty, and that the first thing that happens to them in the United States is that they experience persecution and having their families shattered – possible irrevocably shattered…
…it is one of the most fundamentally evil acts I can envision.
I’ve always been liberal, but I was not always a supporter of immigration. I was that “white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” in the words of Dr. King. It took seeing immigration law affecting the lives of my friends and colleagues first-hand to shift my opinion – to begin to value justice over order.
I never thought I’d be an immigrant myself. When we started looking at leaving the states, I was stymied by the immigration points systems of other countries. Did we have enough to qualify? Would any employer sponsor our visas? Why couldn’t we just move?!
The idea that our freedom as people is fundamentally tied to our status as citizens and our economic potential was a brutal wake-up call to me in my blithe first-world privilege as an American.
No, we could not just pick up and go. Not even to Canada. It just so happened that New Zealand made it easy. We were who they wanted. My wife had a job offer, and we had help from the immigration office. It was complicated. Anxiety-inducing. But never really in question. And our lives were not in direct, specific danger while we waited.
Not long after we arrived, New Zealand experienced its own election. One of the first outcomes of that was that the new government might restrict house purchases to permanent residents. We were in utter shock! We just uprooted our entire lives to come here only to learn we might be prohibited from owning a home for years?!
I grew to be a supporter of paths to immigration and the rights of immigrants while I loved in the US, but it was in that moment that it became real to me in a way that it had never been real before.
Now we were “the other.” And, I totally understood why! The potential NZ law made sense! Housing is impossibly tight here, and people from other countries have way more financial leverage than the average Kiwi!
That made watching the horrifying, dehumanizing conversation on immigration in the US even more tragic to watch. America is a country of immigrants unlike any other, but its fractious response to immigration doesn’t make sense. It is not based in reality. It is based in fear.
In our year of immigration I’ve watched that conversation go beyond rhetoric around a wall to travel bans, the aggressive detention and ejection of legal residents, and now the atrocity of children being ripped from families and sent into an inescapable and dehumanizing limbo.
I know this isn’t only due to the current president. I know it isn’t only a Republican vs Democrat dichotomy
To me, that makes it easier to get angry. There is a government that is enabling and expanding these policies RIGHT NOW, so that’s where we can focus our rage into change.
I think about if we had arrived in New Zealand only to have my daughter pulled out my arms and sent to an undefined, inaccessible state of detention and it makes me physically sick. After all of those difficult choices made for her, the thought of seeing her taken away…
I have no words for it.
I hate that it took the personal experiences of myself and my friends to deepen my empathy for what immigrants and asylum-seekers experience in America. I wish I had been a better, less-selfish person than that. My family would never exist without generations of prior immigrants – none of whom came to America as a desirable citizen.
If you don’t have that experience yourself… if you’re just now getting upset “as a parent”… PLEASE hear me on this:
Find the love and acceptance in your heart NOW.
Value justice over order NOW.
Care about people coming to America for a better life NOW.
Don’t regret it later.
We all know the poem:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist”
It’s about more than a lack of empathy and action. It’s about the blithe illusion of safety that comes with not being the other, of not being singled out in any way.
We are all the other.
Maybe your number just hasn’t been called yet.
Maybe you’ve never realized your humanity can been reduced to “points” on an immigration form, the bar code tag on the wrist of your loved one, or a serial number tattooed on your own arm.
People ask “how could Japanese internment camps happen?” They say “never again” to The Holocaust.
This is how they happened. This is the “again.”
If you are in the United States right now, I am begging you: please make as much of a difference as you can.
Please contact your representatives, change the hearts and minds of your friends, and (if you are able) donate and protest. DO NOT HESITATE to contact your Senators and member of the House of Representatives NO MATTER THEIR PARTY AFFILIATION. Let them know how you feel!
There are many websites that make it easy to find your reps using your zip code. Here’s a simple one.
Need a script? If you are calling your Senator, here is a script specific to the current Keeping Families Together act introduced by Dianne Feinstein. All you have to do is call on Monday morning and read the words.
Want to make your voice heard in public? Women Belong has a directory of planned peaceful protests across America.
But the thing I wish most for you to do is CHANGE YOUR HEART and then CHANGE THE HEARTS OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU.
If you are feeling rage right now, I want you to CONFIRM that everyone you know is feeling that same rage. Again, this is non-partisan rage. It’s not “F–k T—p” rage. It is rage as a human being.
(And, if you are feeling rage right now about children being separated from their families, please ask yourself why are you not feeling that rage about the overall gradual creep of injustice and eradicated norms in the United States at this moment.)
I end every one of these pleas with some version of this statement: I am an intrepid coward.
I had all the same fear and rage as you, and instead of staying and fighting I left. It was complicated and scary, but it was also easy and safe.
I know that, in a way, that makes me the worst person to talk to you about all of this. I’m sorry.
(If it helps at all, you can pretend I moved to Wellington purely to rarely ever experience a day over 80°F again in my life. You would not be entirely wrong.)
For some reason you are following me or reading my words on the timeline of someone you follow, so I’m trying to change your heart and your mind.
I’m trying to confirm that you feel the same rage that I feel about a government that fundamentally doesn’t care about people. Human beings. Children.
For me, the tipping point was my child going to school to learn about active shooter drills. Again, I regret it took the thing that scared me the most to do something and that the thing was leaving.
Please don’t wait for your own tipping point.
By then it might be too late.