Humanity Over Nationality
To the Editor:
After reading Mr. Leadbeater’s response to my article “What is American?”, I would like to share some thoughts. I mused about being a Dane, and he suggested in so many words that I should get myself thither to Denmark. Rather ironic, given my article sprang from the literal, binary comments that pepper threads on immigration (The law is the law! If you don’t like it, leave!). The point I was making, though, is that our nationalities are accidents. I am American because the country where I was born happens to assign more value to my father’s nationality than my mother’s, and the US allows birthright citizenship. Mr. Leadbeater is American because he happened to be born here (I assume). He might have been born abroad to his American parents. Stick him in a time warp and he doesn’t get that golden ticket, the US passport, if the president gets his way and abolishes birthright citizenship. He’s working on it: within a few months, there will be no birthright citizenship for children born to naturalized military personnel serving overseas, if they didn’t spend enough years stateside before serving their country abroad. This has created confusion and havoc, and no small amount of panic for these military families. The law is the law.
Is it? The truth is some laws are good and some are lousy. Our nationality is accidental because of the vagaries of human-made laws, but our humanity is not. We are born to a passport, but we can choose how we live our lives. This country is imprisoning, maltreating, and profiting off of desperate refugees and asylum seekers. This country is doing unthinkable harm to children and families—separations are ongoing, with children not tracked. Imagine your child taken, lost, alone, abused, frightened. This is happening: don’t pretend it isn’t. This country is literally building concertina wire fences at the crossings to prevent people from stepping on US soil to ask for asylum. This country is deporting people who have been here for years to places where they are in mortal danger. All of this is wrong. It is also, actually, in violation of international laws. But whether or not laws are being violated, it is wrong. We know it because we’re human and we have brains and hearts, and we can sense the wrongness without needing confirmation from a public official or a document.
Mr. Leadbeater is affronted by the shame I currently feel as an American, but of course I am ashamed. I’m ashamed first and foremost as a human being. How could I not be? How could anyone see what is happening and not feel shame?
The Armenian in me has been whispering: Shame is good. Shame means you care, it means you’re aware and watchful and thoughtful and want to do right in the world. The Armenian in me carries memories. Memories of vast boiling deserts where terrified people fell and died of thirst. Where they were hunted, raped, and killed, or taken into slavery.
There is something awfully familiar in those faint generational memories of shimmering deserts and suffering, fleeing people. It is ironic that during the Armenian genocide, it was American diplomats and doctors who tried so hard to shine a light on the atrocities. Today, during the exodus from the Central American countries of vulnerable families desperate to find safety, Americans, egged on by the president no less, clamor to build a wall and cry the law is the law while they push these starving, broken people back into harm’s way and imprison them in unspeakable conditions.
I am not religious, but I will tell you, Jesus had it way more right than any old law of any old nation. Love thy neighbor, he said.
Love thy neighbor.
The body of Jimmy Aldaoud was returned the other day to the USA, so he could be buried by his family. Jimmy Aldaoud may not have had the right passport and he may have gotten in trouble with the law and he may have had mental problems. But he was your neighbor. He was your neighbor as surely as the family with little kids crying on Matamoros bridge in the rain are your neighbors.
There are several organizations that are living up to that simple commandment, working around the clock to do whatever they can to help. If you feel the shame and pity that I do, if you feel you want to do something to help but don’t know where to start, please look up these organizations: Team Brownsville, Angry Tias and Abuelas, and RAICES. There is much you can do, and you are needed.
East Burke, Vermont