Immigrant is just another word for person. Illegal immigrants are just people too. People who are trying to find peace, who are trying to escape danger, who are hoping to find equal opportunity. People who had to circumvent the system, but who nonetheless have reasons for everything that they do. Reasons that aren’t all that different from your own.
It’s such an easy and convenient argument. The one where you say that they should have followed the rules. They should have done it right. Then they wouldn’t have to be separated. Then they wouldn’t have to hide. The one where you say it’s their own fault.
It’s an easy argument because, to you, it’s an easy thing to do. Following the rules is no big deal. It’s no big deal to jump online and start researching how to go about applying and filing the paperwork. It’s no big deal because you have internet, and a phone, and because your country allows it. You have a general understanding of the process and you’re fluent in the language.
It’s no big deal for you to take the afternoon off work, because those couple of dollars probably won’t affect whether your family eats tonight. It’s no big deal to get to the offices where you file your paperwork and do your interviews because you have a car, and gas money, and they are in reasonable distance.
It’s no big deal because, if you have to, you can hire a lawyer to help you with the tricky parts. All you have to do is use that money you were going to spend on the football game, or Friday night movies, or a night out with the family.
It’s no big deal because you can think straight and focus on what you’re doing. You don’t have any real pressing issues distracting, rushing, and frightening you into messing up or taking shortcuts – like worrying about whether your kids are going hungry. Or whether your husband is going to beat you to death when he finds out. Or whether your local police will take what’s left of your money, whether your family is safe, or when the next shooting will be.
It’s no big deal because you aren’t desperate to escape a bad situation. You aren’t desperate enough to leave your homeland, your family, your friends, everything that you’ve ever known. You don’t know what it’s like to be so desperate that years of paperwork shuffling and the risk of being turned away is just too great. Desperate because it’s human nature to want peace. Security. Safety. Health. Opportunity.
It’s easy because you don’t know what it’s like to take that chance and to make it. To arrive and to start believing that maybe things will be okay. Maybe you can start fresh and build a home where your children are safe and their bellies are full. A home where maybe you’ll get to see them smile. And maybe you’ll smile yourself, because the threat is finally gone.
But then you’re caught – and a nation full of people are blaming all of their woes on you, when all you wanted was to get away from danger, from poverty, from uncertainty. All you wanted was refuge.
So now you’re desperate again. Desperate for a chance. To be heard. To be understood. To hold on to the one thing you have left – your family.
You don’t know what it’s like, but I bet if you tried you could start to understand.
Maybe they didn’t go about it the way you would have. Maybe they didn’t follow the rules. But maybe they couldn’t. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe things aren’t always black and white. Maybe there are a lot of grey areas in this world, grey areas that we are responsible for morally and conscientiously navigating.
That’s all they’re asking. And that’s all that we’re asking – those of us who have chosen to be a voice for those voiceless families. We’re just asking that you take a moment out of your normal routines and your everyday rationalities to consider those grey areas.
They’re asking us to lay down our self-centeredness and look at the bigger picture. To sacrifice our pride and defensiveness, to quiet our ego and listen. Listen to the struggles that we may never know. Listen to the heartbeats of those who are so similar and yet whose experiences are a world apart from our own. Listen to our souls instead of our heads.
Listen and then answer in kind. Answer with compassion. Because we too know how much it means to know that our children are safe. We too know how important it is to have food to eat and a safe place to rest our heads. We too know that the people we love are most important, above all else. We too can understand that the thought of being separated from them, in a foreign place, among people who seem to despise them, is terrifying. We too want those simple things first and foremost, like safety and stability, health, and a sense of home.
Because we know these things, we know how to answer these people. These people who might be labeled immigrants, but who are no different from us on the inside. We answer with compassion because we would want compassion ourselves. We answer with humanity because we are human ourselves. We answer with humility because we’ve known struggle ourselves. And we answer in love because we want love ourselves.
© 2018 Cristen Rodgers