Over the last week, my Twitter timeline has been filled with stories about family separation at the US-Mexico border. The zero-tolerance policy, which US Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced in April, meant that prosecutors were expected to pursue charges against those who cross the border illegally, resulting in children being separated from their parents and shipped to detention centers. In the last week, I have read story after story about the abuse and neglect of children and their parents by US government officials.
Like many others living in the United States and abroad, I have been appalled at the recent happenings and the ways in which we treat immigrants and undocumented people in this country. I have cried, watching innocent kids be snatched from their parent’s arms. I have felt despair when Sessions announced that domestic abuse and gang-related violence would no longer be reason to grant people asylum. I have called my representatives and felt frustrated that I could not do more. Even after the Trump administration introduced a new executive order that overturned family separation last Wednesday, meaning that now families will be kept together in detention centers until the prosecution process is over, I have continued to call my representatives because detention is not a victory.
But what I have been afraid to admit is that I am terrified.
I am an immigrant, low-income black woman living in the United States. Around this time last year, I was preparing to leave London, the home I had known and loved for six years, and move to the United States to attend university here. Like many immigrants, I came to America seeking something new, something better. After leaving home at 17, London no longer felt safe for me. I was always terrified of running into the many abusive and violent members of my family. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that I believed a little bit in parts of the American dream, the ability to live a life that was better than the one I currently had – one that was free from the fear and threat of violence. And so I packed my bags and left, lucky that I was able to immigrate here legally; lucky that my Irish passport gave me privilege as I applied for, and was given, a five-year visa.
I am one of the lucky ones, with legal documents and resources, and I am still scared
When I arrived in America, I immediately began to contend with racism and white supremacy that was more “in my face” than the type of racism I had become accustomed to experiencing back home in London. During the first weeks of freshman year, Duke University, the institution I now attend, removed the statue of the Confederacy’s top general Robert E Lee. I began to see Southern racism, American racism: Confederate flags, Confederate statues, the living after-effects of the Jim Crow era. And then I started to notice anti-immigrant rhetoric. Walking back from the library after a study session one evening, I saw a group of college Republicans – one was wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. In a classroom debate around domestic policy, a student proclaimed that at the core of building domestic policies should be protecting the needs of Americans, and that immigrants and undocumented people can come after that. Even on this supposed progressive campus, this supposed liberal enclave and quasi-paradise, I felt unsafe.
This week, the US House of Representatives will vote on a compromise immigration bill that will offer Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients a path to citizenship. In 2012, the Obama administration introduced DACA, which permitted 800,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children the means to receive work permits and renewal relief from deportation. The bill will also grant billions to build a southern border wall and will make the process for legal immigration and asylum harder. Last week, the House failed to pass the Goodlatte bill, which would have reduced legal immigration, required employers to use an internet based system to E-Verify that they are hiring legal workers and offered three-year renewable legal status to DACA recipients.
With the Trump administration’s continuous hardline approach to immigration policy, I am scared. I am one of the lucky ones, with legal documents and resources, and I am still scared. I don’t know what all of this means, as so much is changing, but I do know that people should be able to move freely, to seek new jobs, opportunities, to flee war, natural disasters, violence. I know that people should be able to move simply because they are in want of a better life, like I did.
America is now my home; it’s where my family live. This administration would rather have us believe that immigrants and undocumented people are violent, are thugs and are undeserving to pursue the American Dream. But that’s not true – there is space for all of us.