PEN America members are sharing reflections on the crisis surrounding the treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers, and those living in the United States without documentation. As we learn more about the conditions in immigration detention centers and as the federal government threatens mass deportations, these writers give expression to the sadness, anger, and despair engendered by the experiences of those seeking sanctuary in our country.
This idea reeks of groundless arrogance: that having happened to be born on one bit of soil entitles you to everything you would deny people born on another bit of soil. This idea stinks of injustice: that Americans across the board deserve prerogatives unknown to most of humanity. This idea is shocking and appalling: that anyone, anywhere, could think that the appropriate way to deter immigrants and asylum-seekers is deliberately to separate them from their children, placing those children in inhuman conditions. Family is sacrosanct; it is the one thing humankind holds in common. Whether rich or poor, American or foreign, white or of color, we have a small group of people to whom we are related, to whom we owe allegiance, and whom we tend to love. Family is our deepest responsibility: to care for and help one another. There is no greater cruelty than to deprive a parent of his or her child. The language of righteousness used in relation to this violation of human norms at the border is a malign and un-American rhetoric. “All men are created equal” was the opening gambit of these United States of America. Now such equality is under siege. Immigrants don’t come to the United States because it’s fun to do so; they come because they have run out of other options. They come full of hope, but also full of regret about the familiar world they have left behind. They come in abjection, and the responsibility of a country rife with privilege is to welcome them and lift them up. If we want fewer immigrants, we could help the poor of the world so that they don’t become so desperate as to flee their native lands. But even that would not absolve us of responsibility to those who come seeking solace at our gates. Yes, we should recognize that immigrants have built the America most of us love, but we don’t admit immigrants because they will get Nobel prizes and so bring glory to the USA; we admit them because those in the world who have owe a debt to those who have not.
(To read contributions by Julia Alvarez, Joseph Bruchac, Tina Chang, Hari Kondabolu, Hari Kunzru, Jhumpa Lahiri, Lara Prescott, Carolina Rivera Escamilla, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Monique Truong, and Victor Vazquez, please visit PEN American Center.)