In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain …
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson understood the words “all men” in an extremely restrictive sense, but we at Jefferson County Immigration Rights Advocates (JCIRA) believe that “all means all” and that, in this context, “men” is a generic term for “human being.”
It includes every possible gender identity. It includes persons of every skin color and of every or no religion. “All men” includes everyone now residing in our country regardless of immigration status. It includes those seeking asylum in our country to escape violence, persecution, or unlivable conditions in their home countries. And it includes those in other countries who suffer similar conditions but have not been able to come to our borders seeking safety and a chance to enjoy the unalienable rights with which our Declaration of Independence says “all men” are endowed.
Programs such as “Remain in Mexico” and “Family Separation” as well as attempts to eliminate Family Reunification visas and to severely limit or even eliminate refugee resettlement go against our most basic values.
President Biden has attempted to address some of these issues, but recent events show that we still fail to treat people in need with the respect due any human being. Examples include the recent summary deportation of Haitians seeking asylum, the chaotic evacuation of Afghanis, and the continued use of Title 42 as a basis for rejecting potential asylum seekers before they have a chance to request asylum as is their right under international and U.S. laws.
The points of contention and problems that have so far prevented reform of our domestic immigration system are difficult, but the issues involved in the global immigration situation are far more complex. Estimates of the number of people who have been displaced from their homes and need resettlement now range up to 300 million. The maximum of 125,000 refugees that the U.S. can take next year set by the Biden administration is better than the 15,000 limit proposed by the previous administration, but it still seems almost insignificant compared to the need. Furthermore, it has been estimated that up to 200 million more persons will be displaced by rising sea levels caused by climate change in coming decades.
Problems related to human migration are monumental. It is tempting to declare that there is no hope, but we must reject such an abdication of responsibility. The issues involved are so serious and so complex that fundamental change is urgently needed. We urge those in positions of power to make [im]migration a priority, domestically and globally, and to take a leadership role in bringing about change.
We need to:
• Completely revise and reform U.S. immigration laws.
• Ensure that all potential immigrants are treated with respect and compassion.
• Assist countries from which people come to us seeking asylum to address the reasons their people are compelled to flee, especially in cases for which past U.S. actions have contributed to creating untenable situations such as Mexico, Central American countries, Iraq, and Afghanistan. However, we must ensure that “help” doesn’t turn into exploitation or intervention.
• Identify cases in which people will be displaced in the future due to causes such as climate change; war, ethnic conflict; and depletion of critical resources such as water, arable land, and housing.
• Find ways to permanently resettle persons now in refugee camps as well as those expected to be displaced in the future.
• Educate our voters about the reasons people migrate and the need for U.S. action to help deal with present and developing migration crises.
What can we, as individuals, do in response to the present migration crisis? Some suggestions:
• Call, write, or email the president and our legislators urging them to work toward humane solutions to immigration issues.
• Express compassion for immigrants when we talk with friends and civilly challenge racist and xenophobic statements.
• Demand that our elected officials deal with particular issues as they arise.
• Two cases that are critical now are the evacuation and resettlement of Afghanis who are in danger because they worked with the U.S and resettling Haitians driven from their homes by natural disasters and political upheaval.
• Contribute to refugee resettlement agencies such as Refugee Resettlement Office, Lutheran Community Services, Northwest International Rescue Committee, and Jewish Family Services.
• Contribute to immigrant advocacy groups such as Washington Immigration Solidarity Network, Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center, and JCIRA.
JCIRA is committed to building a supportive and safe community for immigrants. We offer financial assistance, legal services, an English Language Learners program, advocacy for immigrant rights, and community education. We provide rides, English/Spanish translation services, help navigating bureaucracies, and adapting to a new culture.
Most of this work deals with individuals or families, but [im]migration is a global issue dealing with nationalities, ethnic groups, and other populations. Understanding this bigger picture provides the context for actions that can be taken by individuals and groups such as JCIRA.
For more information about JCIRA consult the website www.jcira.org and the JCIRA Facebook page. We invite you to join us in JCIRA’s work. If interested, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Lawrence Jensen is Co-Chair of Jefferson County Immigration Rights Advocates.)