Monday, January 30, 2017

Do Better

I'm writing this for me. I don't expect to change anyone's opinion, and this is solely my opinion. My family, my work, I don't know if they agree or don't agree with me.

I read the draft of the executive order suspending visas on Thursday. The executive order was signed on Friday. Today, I read the final copy, from the White House's website, then re-read it to make sure I understood.

I've listened to the commentary.

I've checked my heart, my beliefs, and my learning.

I cannot support this.

I'm not convinced that this executive order is unconstitutional, but what is constitutional is not necessarily "right." I can say horrible, mean, things to people and that's constitutional, protected under the first amendment, but it doesn't make it right to do. Before I saw that Google had honored Fred Korematsu's birthday today, I was drawing parallels to US v. Korematsu, the Supreme Court case that upheld the abhorrent detention of Japanese citizens during World War II. In Jerry Mayer's Constitutional Law class, I studied this case, extensively, and this case, specifically the dissent, was used as a basis for my Moot court concurring ruling against a case regarding the constitutionality of marshal law. For the record, I got an A- on that paper, Jerry Mayer commenting that my intro had been written by my "evil twin," while the rest of the paper was at least cogent. (Hi Jerry. Some things you don't forget. You also called me out for using the word "tenacious," when "pernicious" would have been a better choice. You were right, and we are both word snobs.) Korematsu has never been fully overturned. Additionally, president's have the authority, at least as far as I know right now, to issue executive orders. Every president has.

Someone I respect, if I disagree with frequently, Dr. Steven Meyer, remarked, "There has to be a better way." Steve and I see polar opposites on most issues, but on this we agree. He will tell you a lot about what Reagan would say. I have a slightly different take.

I've been thinking about stories and governments. They tie together loosely, and impact my thinking on this issue.

When I was in junior high, the Bosnian war was in full effect. We had several Bosnians start attending our school. It wasn't until later that I realized that "refugee" was the appropriate term for their status. For us, they were just other kids. One girl and I ended up running cross country together in high school, and while we weren't the best of friends, we got along, and I got to know her story. I heard a bit about the horrors she experienced and the scariness of fleeing home. This is not something that a 12 or 14 year old should have to know. Her brother didn't do well - I have vague memories of him acting out, but not clear memories as he wasn't in our grade. As an adult, I realize that what he was likely experiencing was PTSD.

When I was in college, I spent a summer in Romania, intentionally interviewing college students about their experiences both under Communism as children, and then their life now, 10 years post-Communism. I got to see what a struggling government looked like, and that not every system functions like or as well as others.

Finally, I've been thinking a lot of my great-grandmother, one of the strongest, bravest women I have ever known. At age 13, she travelled from Romania to Canada to visit family. Then war broke out, and she never went home. Ever. She lived to 102. Our family never actually talked about her immigration status, but what do you call someone who leaves home and then can't go back? I'm betting the word you're looking for is "refugee." I've also been thinking about what would have happened if Canada, in 1913, had said, "yea, no. You can't stay. Sorry there is a war and your country is aligned with the losing side, and you don't really have an allegiance to that losing side, but you gotta go. Get out." In my head, I can't get beyond the boat back. I can't get beyond the boat back because I don't have any confidence that the boat would have made it back.

And that's really the rub. I, we... we are not really all that far removed from current day refugees. We just instituted a ban of indefinite lengths on Syrians, and we won't lift that ban until we can have some better assurances of who the people are who are claiming asylum, with government documentation and, hell, maybe letters of reference? I don't know... and neither does the government. What I do know, is that if you are scared enough to herd your family onto a boat that might sink and you all might drown, or risk being shot at a border because it's better than what you're living in, you likely don't have all the documentation needed to prove who you are. I highly doubt my great-grandmother, who intended to stay in Canada for a month, had all the right documentation.

People flee nonfunctioning governments. Governments that are never going to provide the kind of verification demanded by this executive order. Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since I don't know when. Sudan is headed by someone wanted for crimes against humanity. Syria is a mess of biblical proportions. People are literally scared for their lives, a concept that, in reality, is difficult for most Americans to truly comprehend, including me. I don't know what it's like to have a gun put to my head, or to run out my back garden because the opposing tribesmen are coming in the front door to kill me - a situation a very good friend of mine from college faced during Sierra Leone's civil war. But I've listened to the stories and heard the pain in people's voices, and somewhere down deep, I know that this executive order trades a piece of America's soul for the hope of safety.

And I want us to do better.

I want us to be the City on the Hill, the light in the darkness, the hope for the hopeless. Is it too much to ask that we take risks in order to show compassion? Is it too ridiculous to think that our potential pain is worth no more than the actual, real-time pain of others? That in the end, we are all in this together, and that humans are not so different from each other, no matter what their documentation - or lack thereof - reads?

Do we need security? Yes. Do we need to prevent people, when possible, from doing us harm? Sure. Are there groups out there out to kill Americans? The death to America chants would tell us there are.

Why not fight fear and hate with compassion and love? Why not undermine the things said against us by proving otherwise? Why not be the people that extends the hand of healing in the face of anger? We aren't exactly over-doing it right now anyway. Applications for asylum take upwards of two years to process, and, according to Lutheran Relief Services, we only accept about 5% of all refugees who apply.

I am concerned that the open-ended nature of this ban - the one that discusses that after 120 days, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security provide the president with a list of all (not just the 7 countries plus Syria mentioned in the order) countries that do not provide information that meets our criteria, and will ban those citizens from visiting, relocating, or applying for asylum - will ultimately be more expansive. I am concerned that this will make it more difficult for me to do my job, as foreign governments tighten restrictions on Americans visiting and/or conducting business abroad in response to American restrictions on entrance. I am concerned that I will not be able to serve in countries in which my organization currently works - including Muslim-majority countries, because of what their government would believe our government believes about them. I am concerned that I will not be able to host my friends from other countries here. To meet in person with my international co-workers (many of whom I consider friends), because they have been turned away by my government at my border. To note, my organization has not and will not take a stand on this issue - they intentionally stay away from politics. These are my own thoughts, my own concerns.

The immediate impact is to people I don't know, but in another life, with another outcome in 1913, may not have been so foreign to me. The potential downstream effects impact my life today.

We need to do better.

For all our sakes.

Footnote: For good and balanced reading on this subject, check out Preemptive Love Coalition's - an NGO working in Syria and Iraq with people displaced by the conflict there - take on the matter:

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