Dear Senator Capito,
I’ve called your office more times during the past couple of weeks than I have called any politician’s office in my entire life. You see, I’m worried about your intentions.
Your job as a senator requires you to make decisions in the best interest of me and the other 1.8 million people who live in West Virginia.
You aren’t doing that.
I saw the recent photo of you and President Trump with a caption that said together you will bring back jobs for coal miners. That’s a lie, and you know it. There are a variety of reasons coal can no longer be the backbone of West Virginia’s economy, and your support of environmental deregulation at the risk of harming state residents won’t fix it. (http://fortune.com/2016/07/20/why-donald-trump-wont-bring-coal-jobs-back-to-west-virginia/). But you realize many or your constituents don’t want to read or hear the facts. They just want their politicians to fix something that is permanently broken. So unless you have a plan to find new jobs for former coal miners, and I’ve seen nothing of the sort, you are lying. And you are voting against the best interest of unemployed coal miners because they don’t want to hear that life as they know it has changed. Apparently, their vote is more important to you than their health is.
This same political pandering must be why you aren’t questioning Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. After all, I’ve seen your written response to those who questioned your support. You defended yourself by saying that Trump is acting in the interest of national security. It’s not about national security. It’s about rhetoric and feeding into the hate that spurred Trump’s campaign. And you know it. His actions certainly aren’t based in fact. Experts in homeland security have expressed concern about his order: http://www.npr.org/2017/01/31/512592776/will-trumps-refugee-order-reduce-terror-threats-in-the-u-s. But many West Virginians don’t understand immigration or the extreme vetting that refugees must already endure. They seem to think that being Muslim is practically a crime and use this to justify their distrust and even hate while calling themselves good Christians. But you don’t care if their opinions aren’t based in reality, and you choose to feed their fears anyway. I thought your job is to protect West Virginians regardless of their misguided beliefs. If so, you’re failing.
Which brings me to the issue that is probably bothering me the most: your plan to vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos doesn’t have a degree in education, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended a public school or state university, sent all four of her children to private schools, and supports for-profit education. No matter how I look at this situation, I cannot understand how you could believe that putting her at the helm of our nation’s public education system is good for the Mountain State. Let’s face it, West Virginia is already struggling with educating our young people. During the 2015-2016 school year, 51% of our state’s high school juniors scored below the reading proficiency level, and 79% of them scored below the math proficiency level. Twelve percent of our adult population hasn’t even graduated from high school. Let me repeat that, more than 10% of our adult population hasn’t even graduated from high school!
Please explain how Betsy DeVos, a woman with no education experience, will be able to help West Virginia. Since we live in such a poor and rural state, I certainly can’t imagine how her passion for private schools will help.
I hate to be cynical, but do you actually like having an under-educated constituency? Do you believe that the less educated we are, the more gullible we will be? I certainly hope this isn’t true, but since you have a pattern of voting in ways that support your constituents often misguided beliefs and against their best interests, I find myself wondering.
Even more importantly, I’d also like to prove myself wrong. I ‘d like you to show me that you aren’t making decisions because they are popular instead of being right.
That is, after all, what we mothers have often told our children to do.
Maybe it’s time to start behaving in the same manner.
During the musical Chicago, two of the main characters, a sensational murderer and a corrupt prison warden, sing the song “Class” while they drink whisky and smoke cigarettes. Of course the scene is intended to be ironic as neither of the characters is the least bit classy.
Maybe this should be the theme song for the Trump administration.
After all, the lyrics started running through my brain when I saw a comment on social media about the Trumps at an inaugural ball. ” It’s so nice that our kids can see class and sophistication in the White House” it said.
Wait? What? Our kid didn’t see class and sophistication when President Obama was in office?
The Obama’s family photo should be in the dictionary under the definition of both class and sophistication,especially considering their obvious love for each other, the respect they show for all individuals, and their lack of scandal during eight years in the White House. And yet, this person was insinuating otherwise.
I couldn’t understand why, and I wondered in what alternate universe that person was living. We may have differences of opinion about politics, but the statement wasn’t even grounded in reality.
The Trumps have a lot of money, but the president’s behavior has been anything but classy. I don’t think bragging about grabbing women’s genitals is classy. I don’t think using hateful language to garner support is classy. I certainly don’t think calling people who disagree “enemies” is at all classy. And even though I promised I wouldn’t drag Melania’s name into any of my issues with the Trump administration, I don’t know in what universe a first lady who posed for nude photos could ever be considered more classy than Michelle Obama.
At some point, I realized this person either a) was a racist or b) had been brainwashed by the Trump propaganda machine, which has apparently been fervently trying to pretend that the Trumps are classy just as Trump has been pretending the size of his inaugural crowd was large and that he didn’t actually lose the popular vote.
Sadly, I’m familiar with how aging, white men can be obsessed with the need for one-upmanship. I’ve witnessed it too many times. I’ll never forget being forced to endure two older white men comparing the best meal they had ever had by noting price and restaurant. The discussion occurred in my office at a nonprofit where a colleague and I were doing a lot of hard work for very little money.
My co-worker and I quietly went about our work as the bragging grew louder and the men grew more animated. When they finally left the room, my co-worked snipped, “why didn’t they just drop their drawers, compare size, and be done with it.”
At the time, her comment was a funny reprieve from an annoying and uncomfortable situation. In hindsight, it spoke volumes about how men like Donald Trump view the world. They are so obsessed with proving their own superiority that they don’t see the reality right in front of them.
What such men don’t understand is that the size of an inaugural crowd doesn’t define their ability to lead any more than the size of their bank account can make them classy.
Class comes from holding your head high despite adversity and being gracious in the face of defeat. Class comes from biting your tongue rather than having to eat your words later. And, most of all, class comes from focusing on treating others with respect rather than spending time worrying about how others treat you.
Class is definitely something that belongs in the White House.
I only pray it finds its way back there sooner than later.
On Saturday, some friends and I decided to make a trip into the city.
It was no ordinary outing, and it was no ordinary day.
We were going to Washington, D.C. to join the Women’s March on Washington and express our concerns about newly inaugurated President Trump.
I’m tired of people telling me that I might as well be wishing the pilot of the plane I’m on to fail. I’ve tried to explain that the pilot doesn’t even understand the control panel, that the ride is already quite bumpy, and that he’s threatening to throw some people off without a parachute. We need to find a way to steady the plane and correct the flight pattern. But that message seems to fall on deaf ears.
I’m saddened by people who belittled the march or claim that our country already ensures we have equal rights. This march wasn’t about what some of us already have. It was about what so many individuals are at risk of losing. This was not a march about traditional women’s rights or even reproductive rights (although some people chose to advocate for these issues.) It was a march about human rights for all people – people of different skin colors, people of different sexual orientations, people of different religions, and people of different countries of origin.
Most of all, I’m frustrated with people who claimed the marchers were out of line and disrespectful to the office of the President. First, the Constitution gives us the right to protest – it is vital to a healthy democracy. Secondly, the new President ran a campaign based on disrespect and hate. I cannot respect an individual who has belittled women, put white supremacists and racists in positions of power, selected a vice president who threatens the rights of the LGBTQ community, called Mexicans rapists, mocked a disabled reporter, spoke of grabbing a woman’s genitals, and called those who disagreed with him “enemies.”
And so, my friends and I put on our pussy hats, and we marched.
There is so much I can say about the experience. I could describe the signs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes that lined the streets where we walked from RFK Stadium to the U.S. Capitol. I could describe how march participants were constantly thanking the police assigned to keep everyone safe. And I could describe how everyone was supportive, polite and loving to each other.
But there’s an old saying that pictures speak louder than words. And so, I share a few of the photos my friends and I took during the march and hope they not only show why we marched. It will show that this was not a self-serving protest proclaiming concerns about how polices will affect our bank accounts. It was about tolerance, acceptance and support for individuals and groups who are at risk of losing their dreams.
I’ve never had a life when a pressing news story might not interrupt it.
When I was about four-years old, my mom would get me up before dawn and we’d walk to a kiosk-like structure (to this day I have no idea exactly where we went) so she could scrutinize a bunch of dials and jot numbers in her notebook. When we got back home, I would stand at her feet twirling the cord on the rotary dial phone that was attached to our kitchen wall as she called radio station KRCO with the local weather report.
That was the beginning of her journalism career, which would span more than four decades.
By the time I entered kindergarten, my mom didn’t go anywhere without a pen, a reporter’s notebook and her camera. She sought out anything and everything that could be meaningful in a small town: government meetings, human interest stories, horrific accidents and political issues. And I tagged along while she pursued that truth.
By the time I entered junior high school, I had been chastised for not shaking Senator Bob Packwood’s hand appropriately, had gained a more thorough knowledge of human behavior from a bunch of open-minded hippies at a commune, been a passenger in a small plane performing some scary dangerous aerobatics, and been the human subject in one-too many staged photos. Because if my mom wasn’t writing a story, she assumed the role of photographer for her friend Carolyn Grote.
And that’s how my best friend and I ended up posing for a photo with a man who thought worm farms would be the wave of the future. And, to add insult to injury, the newspaper didn’t even get my name correct. Apparently, when my mom had submitted the photo in her usual forthright manner, she had noted that I was the photographer’s daughter. At some point in the pre-computer era of information transfer, I became the writer’s daughter and my last name changed.
I noted my anger in the scrapbook in which I documented everything I considered important in my life – from class photos to reading awards to wedding announcements. I obviously felt quite offended that a newspaper, an institution I had come to believe was all about the truth, would get my name wrong.
Forty years later, I am not only amused by my childhood indignation, but I still strongly believe in the integrity of institutions that are truly dedicated to pursuing the truth and sharing that truth with the rest of the world. I also know that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing who have built their business on the backs of genuine truth seekers.
There are businesses that market themselves as news organizations but have little, if no, interest in the truth. Instead they exist solely for profit or for political purposes.
There are people who market themselves as journalists but are really only peddlers of muck.
And there are citizens who will believe in anything that justifies their own belief system while dismissing anything else as fake. Even worse, they have begun to label journalists as dishonest or self-serving.
I am now married to a journalist and as a journalist’s wife, a journalist’s daughter, and as the mother of a journalism student, I am angered and frightened by the inability to distinguish between truth and lies. I also know that some people don’t believe I can make a non-biased case for journalistic integrity.
But for those who will listen, I can tell you the truth about real journalism.
Real journalism isn’t about making people happy – it’s about helping people better understand the world in which they live and to make the decisions accordingly.
Real journalism doesn’t fit easily into a family’s schedule. My husband keeps crazy hours, and my mother never knew when a breaking story would tear her away from her family.
Real journalism doesn’t involve turning information that comes from only one source into fact. Real journalism requires more than one source and documentation. Anything less is just a quote from someone who may or may not be telling the truth.
Real journalism doesn’t recognize holidays. Every year, I see the social media posts about stores that require employees to work on Thanksgiving or other holidays. No one ever suggests that journalists should ignore world events to eat turkey or open Christmas gifts. My mom and husband often worked on Christmas because, well, someone had to.
Real journalism is careful to distinguish between opinion pieces and news.
Real journalism is about accountability for those who deliver the news as well as those who read or hear it.
And real journalism is about uncovering the truth and sharing that truth with others no matter the implications.
And now, that pursuit of the truth is in jeopardy.
Last summer, I had the privilege of attending an event at the National Press Club. While I was there, I saw an announcement that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had banned the Washington Post from having access to his campaign.
And that is the day I got really, really scared.
There is a huge difference between cracking down on fake news and cracking down on legitimate news sources. Those legitimate sources are what make the difference between living in freedom and living in oppression. And those who control the media control access to the truth.
It’s time we all begin to evaluate from where our information comes, arm ourselves with that truth, and defend those who share it with us.
Anything less is just not American.
About ten years ago (before social media reconnected me with people who I never thought I’d hear from again), I received an unexpected email at work.
It was from a guy I’d known more than a decade earlier and who had faded into my memory like the vague shadows of a rear view mirror. He and I had once run in similar circles, but I’m fairly certain we never had a conversation that endured more than five-sentences. He’d certainly never occupied much, if any space, in my conscious or subconscious mind.
Which is why, when I’d received a chatty and rather lengthy email from him, I was more than just a little surprised.
He’d contacted me after reading a newspaper article in which I was quoted. He hadn’t known that I lived in the same town where his daughter and ex-wife resided, and seemed genuinely excited to re-connect.
I responded, and we exchanged a few more emails.
And then he died.
I learned about his death in the same way he’d found me – by reading about it in a newspaper article in the local paper. He had been in a head-on collision after apparently falling asleep at the wheel.
At a glance, there’s nothing particularly meaningful about this guy who was a small part of life, then wasn’t, then was again, then exited it completely.
We hadn’t been close nor do I imagine we ever would have been.
And yet, his random appearance after so many years then his abrupt disappearance after only a few days have stayed with me. Perhaps that’s partly because they serve as a reminder of how random and fragile life is. But they also suggest something more essential about how we live our lives.
We never know what the implications of our simplest interactions with others may lead. Acknowledging the presence of the quiet person in a group or sharing a smile don’t seem like grandiose gestures in a world overwhelmed by people who scream for, and often get, attention.
But then again, maybe they are actually bigger and more relevant than any action on a stage, or screen, or political platform can ever be.
Mark’s email all those years ago was a surprise because I never thought there was much worth remembering about me in those early days of my adult life. I certainly didn’t think someone I barely knew would reach out to me more than a decade later.
Yet he did. And even though our interactions were brief, he gave me something in return: a new-found understanding of my relevance in the past, in the present, and in the future.
As the Year 2016 ends and the Year 2017 arrives, the majority of my friends and acquaintances are glad to say goodbye to a year in which so many people died and the future of our democracy began to crack. Because of that, they are fearful of what 2017 may bring.
And yet, in truth, we can’t really live if we spend our energy in a soup of regrets, resentment and concerns about the behavior and actions of others.
All we can do is follow the Golden Rule and treat others in a manner that no one can criticize. And sometimes, when we do that, our actions may stay with others long after our own memories of them have faded.
A guy I once barely knew taught me that.
Rest in peace, Mark.
And rest in peace 2016.
I have a confession.
While I am quite happy to have my son home from college for a few weeks during the holidays for the simple pleasure of having him close, I’m also appreciating a side benefit.
I have an additional chauffeur for my very busy, always doing something but not old enough to drive herself 15-year old daughter.
Such was the case on Monday evening when she needed a ride home from school at 5:30.
My husband, who had to get up and go to work shortly after midnight, was getting ready to go to bed, and I was still at my office on a conference call.
Thus, my 18-year old son was dispatched to get his sister, and I was able to get home without any worries.
Or so I thought.
I had just walked in the door and taken off my coat when Giles came running down the hall in a panic. He was wearing only his underwear and waving his phone wildly in one hand while attempting to shove Crocs on his feet with the other.
It was not a pretty sight for so many, many reasons.
“The kids were in a car wreck!” he yelled at me while bouncing unstably on his left foot while trying to shove a Croc on his right.
I am ashamed to admit that, while I did have a flash of concern for my kids, I was primarily focused on one thing: I could not let my husband leave the house looking like that.
And so, I took charge of the situation.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“By the hospital!!!!” he shouted still charging down the hall in all his almost-naked glory.
“I’ll go. You stay,” I said not even bothering to put my coat back on or wait for his response.
Before I continue this story, I must say one thing. Everyone thinks Giles is the calm one in our marriage. While I admit that I am high-strung and have a tendency to worry, I am the proverbial woman who will choke on a flea but swallow a camel. In other words, when I have to deal with a tough situation, I just deal with it. My husband, on the other has, has one extremely irrational fear: he does not trust anyone, except himself, behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
When we are on a long trip, he practically hyperventilates if I suggest he take a break and let me drive. I don’t think he’s even been in a car when my son is driving. He left the responsibility of driver’s education to me and a paid instructor. That’s why I knew that Giles was in such a state of anxiety that he wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping into my car to drive to the scene of the accident. In his underwear. And his Crocs.
Now back to the story.
Since we live in the neighborhood right behind the hospital, I arrived on the accident scene in less than five minutes. A quick assessment told me several things:
- No one had been hurt
- The accident appeared to be the fault of the other driver
- A hospital security guard was handling the situation until the police arrived
- My husband’s car didn’t seem to be badly damaged – unlike the other car
- I should have worn a coat as the temperature was well below freezing, and
- My daughter was crouched down in the passenger seat talking into her cell phone and looking thoroughly disgusted
After hugging my son, who seemed in complete control (unlike the other driver who was almost in hysterics), I checked on my daughter. She informed me that she was crouched down because the whole situation was extremely embarrassing and she didn’t want anyone to see her. She also told me that she was on the phone with her dad, but the phone battery was almost dead. I told her not to waste any more power and to hang up. I would call her dad to let him know what was happening.
But here’s the thing about me. I like to talk. A lot. And I talk to my husband all of the time. The accident scene provided a whole new set of characters with which to converse. I tried to calm the other driver by talking about her TARDIS hat. I had a lengthy discussion about music with the guy who had been behind my son and stopped to help. I even talked with the security guard about keeping the area safe. Then the police arrived. In other words, despite my promise to call Giles back, I didn’t. Which is why he had again called my daughter, insisting she stay on the phone to keep him informed.
I took the phone from her, tried to ensure my husband that the situation wasn’t that dire, and told him his car wasn’t very damaged.
“It’s mostly superficial,” I said.
“How would you know?” he asked.
“Because I can see it,” I replied. The grill is a bit broken, and there are a few dents. Other than that, it’s fine.” The music-loving guy chimed in.
“Yeah,” he said loudly. “I already checked it over. Nothing is leaking.”
“But is it safe to drive?” my husband asked. At this point, I know I rolled my eyes. After all, the entrance to our neighborhood was only a few yards away, and our house was less than a mile.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s fine.”
When Giles continued to express concern, I handed my daughter’s nearly dead phone to the police officer, who assured Giles that our son could drive the car home – once the other car was pulled out of his way by the tow-truck.
When the officer gave me the phone back, Giles immediately said, “That was embarrassing.”
I almost told him that it was much less embarrassing than if he had actually shown up on the scene, but I restrained myself.
Later, when we had all arrived safely home, I didn’t protest much when he tried to convince the kids that I had been as freaked out as he had when we got the call. They humored him by nodding in agreement.
Because they, like me, didn’t really care who had been freaked out. Everyone was safe, we had another family story to tell, and there was no long-term damage to anyone or anything.
In some ways, that car accident was like a strange Christmas gift wrapped up in torn paper and a wrinkled bow. It might not have been what we would have ever wanted, it certainly wasn’t bright and shiny, and it cost more than we would wanted to spend emotionally or financially. But it reinforced the bond that makes our family unique, special and, most importantly, always ready and willing to support each other… no matter how embarrassing each of us can be.
On Sunday morning, I’ll be worshiping at a Catholic mass. I’ll also be briefly speaking about the Catholic organization for which I work.
The Catholic Church has always been a part of my life during the Christmas season. My parents met on the campus of Notre Dame University back in 1961, and their annual Christmas cards from Father Theodore “Ted” Hesburgh always held a place of honor in their home.
Despite that, my parents aren’t Catholic, and I’m not Catholic.
Just learning to call their church service “mass” was an accomplishment for me. Less than a month after I started my current job, I made the mistake of walking into a Catholic Church on a Sunday morning and asking two women about “the service.” They looked at me blankly until one of them, with a note of disbelief, asked “do you mean the mass?”
I did. Since then, I’ve also discovered that a Catholic priest doesn’t deliver a sermon but instead gives a homily and that Catholics don’t say The Lord’s Prayer. Instead they say a shortened prayer called the Our Father. It has the exact same words as The Lord’s Prayer, but it ends sooner. Which means, if you are a Protestant (like me) in a Catholic Church, you quickly become the center of attention when you are still loudly reciting the end of the prayer you know while everyone around you is silent. That may actually be more embarrassing than loudly saying “Amen” at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance during a school program. Yeah – I did that once too.
But back to my original point: many people assume I’m Catholic because of my job (unless, of course, they get the opportunity to observe me during an actual Catholic mass.)
I had a similar experience back in the early 1990’s when I worked for the statewide AIDS Program. At that time, the popular belief was that AIDS was a gay disease. Therefore, many people assumed that I must be a lesbian, especially since my job required my going to some very interesting events at some very interesting places. Needless to say, I became quite familiar with the gay community.
But here’s the deal: not being Catholic doesn’t prevent me from doing my job or serving people in need any more than not being a lesbian prevented me from addressing the growing AIDS epidemic in the early 1990’s. And I’m fairly confident that the people who know me and have worked with me will agree.
What my work does require is that I accept people for who they are just as I hope they will accept me for who I am. In doing so, we can all work together for the common good.
During the last few months, I’ve witnessed too many individuals make negative comments about people who don’t share the same religion, the same sexual orientation or even the same skin color.
I just don’t get it.
Considering our differences as negative will never, ever allow us to work together. It certainly won’t help us identify and use our various strengths to build a better country. Most of all, it won’t help us eliminate hate, which is an enemy to all of us.
As a small child, one of the first Bible stories I learned was a parable that Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke. It went like this:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:25 -37
I’m not a Biblical expert. Instead, I’m just a lowly social worker trying to do a small bit of good in a world that can be harsh, brutal and often downright cruel. But to make even the slightest difference, I have to work with and be a good neighbor to people who are extremely different to me.
I can only hope that this Christmas, all of you will “go and do likewise” as well.
The phone call came on Friday afternoon because, well, these types of phone calls always seem to come on a Friday afternoon.
The caller was warning me that a self-important person was bad-mouthing me behind my back.
I wasn’t surprised, nor was I worried. In fact, at this point in my life, I didn’t much care.
I’ve had others slamming me for my successes ever since I broke the curve on tests back in junior high school. Heck, I once had another woman spread horrible, untrue rumors about how I treat others just because I got the job she wanted.
So, on Friday afternoon, when I was informed that I was being disparaged for playing well with others to improve a situation, I was only slightly irritated and a little bit sad for the woman who was maligning me.
I wasn’t being criticized for doing anything hurtful, mean-spirited or even self-serving. I was being cut down for succeeding at something that the other woman, for years, has failed to do.
And so, before I hung up on my caller, I told her not to worry. The hater’s words and anger had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her own unresolved issues. For years, she has demonstrated a pattern of trying to undermine strong, accomplished women.
But long after the phone call had ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the hate that’s permeating our current social and political environment. I continue to be astonished that so many people feel bad enough about themselves or their own situation that they are compelled to embrace raw hostility toward others.
Despite my initial desire to respond to vitriol with my own harsh words and behavior, I can’t let myself fall into that trap.
Doing so will only contributes to a cycle of negativity.
I speak from experience. At a political forum just this past week I found myself reacting to the ignorance of local politicians with my own derogatory, side comments. And then I immediately felt bad about myself.
Does that mean I should accept bluster, disdain and outright cruelty? No. I refuse to do that.
Something has to change, and being kind in an unkind world seems like a long-shot.
Then again, millions of people have embraced the message of two beloved authors, Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss, who both wrote stories demonstrating that material possessions can never make a person happy and that kindness can change the hearts of completely selfish individuals.
And if witnessing the compassion of others can turn the souls of Scrooge and the Grinch inside out, then maybe, just maybe, there’s still hope for all the other haters in our country.
Which is why, when I go back to work on Monday, I’m not going to let the hater prevent me from doing what is right, saying what is true, and most importantly, living a life that I know would meet with the approval of Mr. Dickens and Dr. Seuss.
And I challenge any hater to say something negative about those two.
If learning from mistakes could actually increase my I.Q., I’d be a genius.
One of my greatest mistakes has been having an opinion on a topic about which I am very emotional but actually know very little.
And so it is with the issue of immigration.
I work for an organization that serves immigrants and refugees. On almost every work day, I overhear conversations in languages other than English, look into the eyes of beautiful children whose parents came to America in hopes of improving their future, and hear stories about families who fear they will never be reunited.
And so, my heart reaches out for these individuals. But being passionate without facts does nothing to help me speak articulately about the issues.
For that, I called upon my co-worker Brittany Young, an immigration attorney who has both the passion and the knowledge. Hopefully, her words enlighten you as much as they enlightened me.
One of the most common questions I hear about undocumented immigrants, is “If they wanted to come to America so badly, why they didn’t just come legally? “
The question seems straightforward: we have a laws that people should follow, so if you are here without documents, you should just go home.
Many people want an easy solution, like building a wall, but the issue of immigration is too complicated for a simple solution.
Our immigration laws are broken and beyond repair. Limits on the number of available green cards have resulted in backlogs for years, even decades. For example, an unmarried adult child of a U.S. citizen from Mexico will have to wait approximately 11 years before they can gain permanent residency. Additionally, punitive changes in immigration laws passed in the 1990’s prevent many immigrants from seeking green cards. An undocumented spouse of a U.S. citizen who entered the U.S. illegally has to return to their country of origin to pursue a green card. Because they have been present in the U.S. for more than a year without documents, if they leave the U.S. to go to an interview, they trigger a ten-year bar on reentering the United States. They may possibly qualify for a waiver of that bar, but there are no guarantees and not everyone qualifies. So, people get stuck without a viable way to enter the legal immigration system.
As an immigration attorney, I often meet with potential clients only to tell them there is nothing I can do for them despite the fact that they’ve lived in the United States for years and their children are U.S. citizens.
Additionally, many undocumented immigrants are doing are the jobs that, historically, Americans don’t want to do. If you enjoy eating fruits or vegetables, the odds are that undocumented workers picked that tomato or apple or watermelon. Without undocumented immigrants, farms struggle to find the labor to harvest their crops. Undocumented workers not only help do much-needed work, they keep the costs low. Those savings are passed on to the consumers. Many Americans who shame undocumented immigrants publicly are actually enjoying the benefits of their labor.
Also, being undocumented in the United States is not a crime. Violating our immigration laws is not a criminal offense. The act of crossing the border is a crime, but the deportation process is a civil law one. Immigration courts, which are tasked with deciding who to deport, are civil, administrative law courts that operate without many of the due process safe guards present in other parts of our judicial system. Despite the grave consequences, people, even children, represent themselves in immigration court.
Because of that, please stop using the word illegal. It’s is dehumanizing. Immigrants are people. They are moms and dads trying to provide for their family the best they can while giving their children the opportunities they never had. They are young kids terrified to return to their home country because gang violence permeates every layer of society. They are women who have suffered unimaginable abuse and are seeking safety. They are high school graduates who were brought here as children and are now trying to figure out how to pay for college.
I never look at a single one of my clients and think they are illegal, because they aren’t. They are people just like you and me who are I trying to do the best with what they have. Maybe if we move past the labels and actually sit down and talk to some of these individuals, we will discover that our commonalities outweigh our differences.