Mica Pollock, professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Education Studies and director of the Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE), wrote an op-ed column for Iowa’s Des Moines Register to connect with people where she grew up. Read the article below or online here.
We’re all more connected to immigrants — and immigration policies — than we think
Des Moines Register July 20, 2019
Mica Pollock, Register Opinion contributor
I recently read a National Catholic Reporter piece that offered crucial advice to Americans today: Don’t ignore our nation’s current treatment of immigrants. It was notably titled “Don’t look away from concentration camps at the border.”
It’s easy for many of us to distance ourselves from the treatment described in articles: People seeking refuge, crushed into cells. Children in cages or dying without medical treatment. Across our nation, families trembling in homes waiting for deportation. We can say “they” are not “us,” and that “we’re” not personally doing this to “them.”
But we’re all more connected than we think.
I remember a childhood game we called “six degrees from Kevin Bacon,” where we’d figure out how many degrees separated us from the movie star.
How many degrees of separation are you from the treatment of today’s immigrants?
A U.S.-born friend of mine is experiencing the vast ripple effects of ICE seizing for deportation a member of her extended family. She and U.S. citizens across the family are scrambling to handle the devastating economic and mental health consequences of ICE working to deport a breadwinner and single parent of a U.S. citizen teen. My friend is And recently, I learned I was just one degree of separation from current immigration policies, because two of my own schoolmates are centrally involved.
In April, I learned from our Iowa high school alumni Facebook page that a fellow alum was a top contender to become Trump’s director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Googling, I gasped, recognizing her as a violinist in our school orchestra and the sister of a friend. Before working for USCIS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, she (herself the daughter of European immigrants) worked in the Minnesota House and then led FAIR, what the Southern Poverty Law Center called “America’s most influential anti-immigrant organization.” She then advised Trump’s campaign on immigration. FAIR features prominently in an exhaustive Anti-Defamation League report called “Mainstreaming Hate,” on widespread efforts to blame undocumented immigrants and non-white immigrants for U.S. “societal ills.”
I then learned of another classmate who has been serving as chief of staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. I read her legal writing arguing that undocumented immigrants shouldn’t benefit from public schools, something they are entitled to by current law.
I’m still in shock that my schoolmates were so closely associated to a national wave of efforts treating so many immigrants as inferior to “us.” I’m sure each schoolmate is a more complex person than news reports suggest. The point is the effect of our actions on others today.
So what’s my own responsibility, just one degree of separation away?
As a professor, I set forth last year to learn more about immigration in my family and nationally. I felt under-informed about the issue of undocumented immigration particularly; I also had realized that I had a common script in my head about people’s lack of documentation. This script said that “we” — my family, and “documented” immigrants — waited patiently in line, while undocumented people jumped that line and somehow exploited the system and so, the rest of “us.” I needed to explore the truth.
I then wrote a public piece, “Flipping Our Scripts about Undocumented Immigration,” to share my realizations and shortcut this journey for others.
What’d I learn? That many white Americans’ ancestors — including my own, and likely my Iowa schoolmates’ — took advantage of immigration pathways to safety and citizenship and economic prosperity just not made available to fellow humans deemed too brown. That my own mother arrived not just as an “immigrant,” but as a refugee. That our “undocumented” neighbors’ actual lives differ from our “documented” ones only in that the government proactively gave us the privilege of documentation and refuge. That immigrants of all legal statuses actually have an overall positive effect on the economy and our communities.
Ironically, I ended the piece talking of government leaders and voters trying to hard-wire the very term “American” as “white’” and shut the door on brown immigrants — next contributors who come in need, just like their families did. “Today’s exclusion,” I concluded, “comes from ‘us.’”
To counter this racist exclusion, more of us need to learn some history, explore our families, and learn about actual immigration policy and our nation’s current treatment of immigrants. We can read and support concrete plans for treating migrating people humanely. We can say loudly that humanity is bigger than borders.
Because all of us — migrants present or past — are connected to the lives being destroyed at the border, and as ICE rips people from our communities.
They are us, and we’re doing this. What will you do about it?