An Open Letter to Americans on Immigration

Dear Americans:

Raise your hand if you chose your birthplace. I see no hands going up. Raise your hand if you earned, paid for, negotiated to be born in the United States. Again, no hands.

I am not trying to be obnoxious. But the questions above mean to assert a simple, clear, but often ignored truth: We did not choose, earn, or deserve to be born here. It was a random fact of biology. Even if you believe in God and God’s will, and you want to suggest that God wanted you to be born here. The fact is that you did not earn it. Our birth in the United States was either random biology or a gift.

I was born to working class parents who did not have much education. But they knew the future for me would depend on my education. So they made sure I had the opportunities at a good education. This country allowed that.

For many people throughout the world, however, that is not the case. If you are born in Sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, India, or many other places in the world, the odds are the you will not have much opportunity for education or health. You might have a very limited chance to thrive. This fact is based on nothing you did, nothing your people did.

So what can explain much of the developed world’s small-hearted view of immigration? Especially in the United States, some voice a view that they deserve to be here and that others do not. What can explain this? Fear, meanness, hubris? All three?

In the last decade or more, the people of the earth are on the move. Due to poverty, corruption, war, violence, and climate change, there are many reasons why people flee their countries. Few do it because they choose to. Nearly all do it because they feel they have no other choice. Some do it because they want a better life for their children. That is love.

Yet we, in the United States, and other western countries too, have some of the most restrictive immigration laws in the world. For some reason, money can flow easily from one country to another, ideas too can flow easily from one country to another. But people? No.

We, in the developed world, have to open up. We have to enlarge our hearts to take in people and make room. We can be creative and plan cities and towns in new ways. We can learn to grow crops in less space, with less soil. In fact, all this is already happening. What is not changing is our petrified idea that we somehow deserve to be here, in a place of relative peace and opportunity, and that others do not.

As some of my regular readers here know, for the last couple of years, I have been trying to advocate for the LGBTQ refugees in Block 13 of Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. These are about 100 people who have fled their home countries, mostly in East Africa, because of violence as a result of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In other words, through no fault of their own, these people have lost their families and their homes.

What I have learned is that many of these people are among the most brave and beautiful people I know. Who among us would abandon all we know so that we could live as the real person we are? Who among us would accept such an uncertain future? Yet that is precisely the choice these good, and vulnerable, people make.

What I have also learned is that it is very difficult to get countries where they could live safely and thrive, to raise their numbers for resettlement and let these people in. They face violence in the refugee camp every day. They wait there for a labyrinthine process to unfold that might, but might not, lead to resettlement. These people deserve resettlement in countries where they can learn and grow to their full potential. This is not too much to ask.

If you want to learn more, look at the information sheet below. Look at other posts on this blog about Block 13 Kakuma Refugee Camp. Google Block 13 Kakuma Refugee Camp and read what you find.

Especially if you are an American, use your voice. Help these people find a home.

The photograph at top is from the Sandy Spring Slave Museum in Sandy Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Published by

Poet & Teacher. Author of four books of poetry: Raising King (2020) Ache (2017) Gospel of Dust (2013) Meeting Bone Man (2012)

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