In this blog post, AILA Inspires Speaker Tom Steyer answers a few questions from AILA Executive Director Ben Johnson in advance of his presentation at #AILAAC18 in San Francisco, June 14.
Why is immigration such an important issue to you?
Immigration, in my mind, has become the leading human rights issue in the United States of America. It’s fundamentally a matter of justice. We have a presidential administration hiding behind discriminatory immigration laws to conceal what are ultimately nationalist ends. If you’re following the news, you can see how they are weaponizing these laws to dehumanize some of the most vulnerable people in our country, all because they fear differences. Immigrant communities are paralyzed with fear. I hear heartbreaking stories from some of our NextGen employees who are first generation Americans, or immigrants themselves, and I’m appalled at the cruelty.
My family came from Northern Europe. With very few exceptions, any American who learns their own history will find that they, too, are descended from immigrants who left their home in need. It wasn’t the King of England who came to settle the New World. Nor was it the wealthy or the entitled. But where you started out didn’t matter as much as what you were willing to contribute once you got here. We have to ask ourselves why that would be any different today. The people seeking a new life in America now are just as deserving of basic rights and protections as anyone. If we treat them as full human beings, they’ll build businesses, serve in the military, invent, teach, lead. Our economy will be stronger and our country will be all the greater for those contributions and accomplishments.
But if you’re not a citizen already, you don’t have the same ability to fight for those opportunities. So it’s our responsibility to stand up for them.
When you speak to the Annual Conference attendees, what one message do you hope they come away with?
We need a broad coalition to overcome this dark chapter in our nation’s history. And that means standing up for people who are under attack in our society, whether it’s because of their religion, their sexual orientation, or their status as immigrants. Anyone who fails to join in this effort to support civil rights and liberties for all is making an historic, moral mistake.
The question then becomes, what role can I play? How can I help? And it just so happens that people who understand the law can make a critical contribution. The average person may see the law as a neutral entity, but folks with legal backgrounds know that’s never been the case. Throughout our history, American laws have been used to advantage the powerful and oppress the vulnerable. And that’s happening today with immigration. Organizations like AILA can help expose those imbalances, and lead the charge for change. And that means you are at the forefront of this fight. America’s immigrant communities need AILA members standing up to this administration and demanding we toss these unjust laws into the ash heap of history.
Turning to another topic, what’s your favoríte thing about San Francisco?
San Francisco at its core is a deeply progressive, open-minded city. It’s welcoming. It’s inclusive. It strives to be an early adopter of new ideas, from innovative technologies to social issues. And that means there’s no shortage of thoughtful, intelligent conversations to have with people who live here. That is both exciting and fulfilling.
People think we’re a little zany-and we may look at the world differently. But think about what we’ve made possible as a result. We’ve led ground-breaking research, started world-changing industries, built forward-thinking companies. And all of it was helped along by our commitment to diversity. If we all come to share a little of that zaniness, who knows what we can accomplish together?
Any final thoughts?
AILA! You picked a great city for your annual conference. We’re looking forward to hosting you here in San Francisco. And I’m thrilled to be one of the very first speakers in the AILA Inspires series. See you in June!
To learn more about the AILA Annual Conference and the sessions featured there, check out the AILA website.