on immigration

it is entirely possible for an immigrant to talk about immigration objectively, but why should that matter? despite the dispassionate character of laws and regulations, there is an argument to be made in that emotions should wield only limited sway as a determinant of policy, but that argument is entirely redundant in our current conversation on immigration. we do not resolve sensitive issues by disregarding the reasons we are sensitive to them. this is not an impossible conversation to have. this is not even a difficult conversation to have. it is simply, to use a defeated word, complicated. in order to engage with and understand immigration, one has to be open to complexity, inconsistency, and deadlock— precisely what frustrates us about emotional matters, and tempts us to disregard emotion in favour of logic or exactitude. 

it is difficult to be on the receiving end of media in times like these. the dismal updates keep coming and coming. people express their revolt and distaste in adjacency with updates of their lunch. newsflashes endlessly propagate images and descriptions of the same cruelties until we have lost our taste for them. all the language of reports and accounts serves as variations on emotional manipulation— crying mothers, abhorrent conditions of containment, children in cages, endless bureaucratic incompetencies. we feel hurt. angry. distressed. despairing. and yet, these feelings motivate some to reject and protest zero-tolerance immigration policies, and some to defend them.

I am an immigrant, and I stand with immigrants and refugees not simply because of some personal sensitivity to their stories and plights, but because I am invested in a world that does not measure worth by nationality. because I believe that the return for wanting to live should be life.

homogeneity is a natural preference for humanity. we find it easier to empathize with people who look like us. we form automatic kinship that can be associated with familial intimacy. we find it easier to trust people within our ethnic communities. these are all biases that can be overcome, and they do not determine our behaviours, but they do influence them. interracial conflict is something that may never dissipate, even with a significant portion of the global population touting acceptance and equality. from a national perspective, however, comprehensive acceptance and equality are luxuries that do not compare with the urgency of having to manage the financial and independent well-being of a country. adopting a mass number of refugees or immigrants into a country will force that host to diminish other capitals, at least in the short term. it will be an arduous process. it will be costly in every definition of the word, and it will be worth it. if it teaches us to live alongside one another, that alone would be worth it. if it proves our capacity for compassion, that would also be worth it. if it increases the vibrancy and brilliancy of our culture and our society, if it boosts the economy, if it improves infrastructure and modernizes the state, that would just be a bonus.

I do not speak for all immigrants, but the victims of america’s current immigration policies are not people who have left home on a whim, or to take advantage of america’s presupposed wealth. they may not even be there in search of some vague american dream. we know why they left. we know why they arrive by the thousands, in ramshackle boats and in threadbare clothing and in grief. accepting them is not a kindness, it is a responsibility. 

I am an immigrant, and I know other immigrants who support strict immigration policies. some of them are my parents’ age. we worked hard, why shouldn’t they? some of them are logical. the country can’t accommodate them all. we need to look after ourselves. some of them have no logic. borders exist for a reason. and of course, some of them are just racist. 

when I say responsibility, it is not only a moral responsibility, but a literal responsibility. america is the perpetrator and sponsor of enough violence and horror overseas that it is now indebted to welcome and harbour every individual whose lives have been affected as a result of american errors. the idealistic response to the immigration conversation is that the countries from which people are fleeing should be made habitable again, but those changes cannot come from force or invasion (masquerading as aid or so-called peace campaigns). for the country that has been at the epicentre of global politics for the last century, and that has abused that power to harrowing ends, this is america’s chance to owe up to its debt. 

it cannot be ignored that american-born citizens have things they feel the need to protect. it is not unreasonable that some feel threatened. I would like to comfort them by saying that an immigrant or a refugee will never have an easier life than they do. an immigrant never removes the question mark from their status. an immigrant never assumes home. an immigrant will encounter, all throughout their life, people who resent them for simply being there. 

but they will be reminded, then, that they have a life, and they will be grateful. 

I would also like to ask them about the kind of country they feel is being threatened. if it is a country that operates with the methodology of ruthless erasure, of privilege over decency, of nationhood over humanity, I would say that it is not worth protecting at all. 

“what was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?” 
- omar el akkad


shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.