When it comes to civil dialogue, we are living in a low moment in our nation’s history. Honest debates that yield real solutions to our common problems seem like a quaint notion—and that disturbs me.
As the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, an organization of 15,000 immigration attorneys, I can tell you that every day, we feel the pressure of serving as advocates that stand between immigrants anxiously waiting to begin a new chapter in their lives and a federal government which can seem indifferent at best and punitive at worst.
Nevertheless, we do the work that we do because we fundamentally believe that immigrants enrich our nation with new talent, energy, ideas, and experiences, and that we are all better for it.
Yet sadly, in recent days, my colleagues and I experienced a new low. First, Attorney General Sessions blamed immigrants, asylum seekers, and what he called “dirty immigration lawyers” for problems plaguing our immigration courts. Just two days later, people from a white supremacist group temporarily hung a sign across the front doors of our building that read, “We are your Dreamers, No Amnesty.” It is difficult not to think that the second hateful attack was inspired by the earlier derision heaped on our profession by a member of the president’s cabinet.
I categorically reject xenophobia, the demeaning of any profession, and the dehumanization of any group of people. It is dangerous and irresponsible. I also fundamentally disagree with the notion that blaming immigrants and immigration for the problems we face in our society or economy will do anything to bring us closer to a real solution to the challenges we face.
I also truly believe that every child in this country, native and foreign-born alike, is entitled to pursue their own unique version of the American dream. I understand that dream is elusive for far too many people in America, and it should be the priority of our lawmakers to provide them with every opportunity to achieve it.
The hard truth is that our nation is in pain and, for some, the idea of immigration is fraught with fear and confusion.
If we are ever to find common ground on this issue, and real solutions to our nation’s pressing problems, we must at least agree to hear each other out.
I don’t believe that groups that spew white supremacist ideologies represent the views of Americans buffeted by our changing economy or discomfort with an increasingly diverse nation.
If such groups are allowed to become the face and voice of millions of disenfranchised Americans, we empower them to the detriment of our country. To avoid that, we must all find ways to listen openly and honestly. Both sides of this difficult debate must be willing to step out of their bubbles and self-affirming news feeds and stop allowing the debate to be defined by the most extreme voices.
I genuinely want to listen, and I want to learn. I want to hear from people who welcome immigrants to America and I want to hear from those who feel uneasy about immigrants in their communities.
Only by listening can we hope to advance a vision for America that benefits us all.
When we disagree on a contentious issue, we eventually come together to solve the problem despite our differences, frustrations and deeply held opinions. As Americans, that’s just what we do. And I still believe that we can work together to advance solutions that benefit everyone in this great country.
Wherever people stand on immigration, it’s time to start listening to each other.