The recent events in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris have brought feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, and helplessness. While these feelings in the coming weeks may subside and take a backseat to the holiday season, they will not entirely go away. And, they shouldn’t. The thought that there has to be something we can do, something we can fight for, will hopefully remain. Many of us are up every night thinking and talking at length about these events and their impact. This is, of course, much bigger than we are but it does not mean that we cannot or should not do anything. We need to do something.
Because this impacts all of us, especially the immigration bar, we need to start a larger discussion. We need to speak out against this xenophobic anti-refugee, anti-Muslim backlash. We need to be open, be frank, be courageous and be hopeful. We need a deeper conversation among each other, within our communities and with those who do not share the same perspective. There is so much misinformation and misuse of facts. Fear and lack of understanding is dictating impulsive and hateful actions. Many in Congress are aiming to halt the refugee resettlement program for those from Iraq and Syria, while millions of refugees are desperately asking for help. Governors in 31 states are touting that they want to close their doors to Syrian refugees, with one governor already turning two families away. And, this is just the beginning. As immigration professionals, we are in a position to highlight the facts, speak the truth, and hold our elected officials accountable. We understand the immigration system better than anyone—we know the intricacies, the process, and what is required.
This may not be what you signed up to do as an immigration attorney, but it is what is needed now. For some the words “refugee” and “immigrant” have developed a negative meaning. The United States has a history of providing a safe refuge to those fleeing oppression and violence; over the past four decades we have taken in 2.5 million refugees and not one terrorist attack was committed by a refugee.
We are also a brave country. Terms like “Boston Strong”, “Never Forget”, and “Let’s Roll” have been part of our vocabulary during times of uncertainty. It is time to reassert our strength, instead of embracing the politics of fear. It can be easy to not do something and remain silent, and it can be quite hard and uncomfortable to raise your voice, but it is definitely worthwhile.
Start small by asking your legislator to welcome Syrian and all refugees and urging the President to extend greater protection to this vulnerable group.
Then get bigger by holding community gatherings and reaching out to those who have opposing views. Discuss the varying opinions and address feelings of xenophobia and anti-refugee sentiment with facts and knowledge about the immigration process. Talk to your children about this as many schools will inevitably discuss these issues.
As the conversation intensifies, we should be at the forefront leading our side of the dialogue.
Written by AILA President Victor Nieblas Pradis and AILA PPC Associate Maheen Taqui