With high summer comes canning season – a season I love, because it involves getting my hands messy and into the earth and its bounty. My husband and I had an extremely limited budget for gifts last Christmas as we had just arrived in America, he as a new immigrant, and me after years overseas. So, we gave friends and family the gift of pickled jalapeños, marinara sauce, and canning lessons in lieu of stuff, and last week, I made good on that gift to a close childhood friend of mine.
The thing about canning is that there are long periods of waiting, and so, naturally, canning turns to talking. My children friend and I covered a lot of ground and she is very dear to me, despite our divergent life experiences. Naturally, our conversation turned to immigration, and these times we’re in, and about how they are more-than-slightly unsettling times to have a spouse who is a non-citizen.
I am very privileged: my husband is white, he’s a native English speaker; from the UK but lived overseas long enough to have a “neutral” accent. If anything, Americans find his accent cute rather than annoying or irritating. He’ll never get yelled at to speak English correctly, though he speaks a bit differently than most of us here. We laugh when he mispronounces “aluminum”, for example.
But it’s still unsettling.
The immigration process is extremely disconcerting. We applied through an American embassy in a third country we were living in at the time. It took thousands of dollars, mountains of paperwork, and 11 months of living with The Fear. Although we rationally, probabilistically had no reason to think my husband would be denied a Green Card, it still could have happened. We barely met the financial requirements. My husband got our anniversary wrong in our interview, thanks to nerves. Even with visa and approval in hand, he still could have been denied entry at the border. American immigration is far more whim-based than we think.
Over a year later, we still live with The Fear. We think through decisions to attend rallies or not, based on size and probability of disruption. He is an over-scrupulous driver. A misdemeanor for either could equal deportation.
Until recently, we at least thought we could hold our breaths until citizenship. And then, under the new administration, there’s been an unprecedented spike of “denaturalization’s” – as a New Yorker headline disturbingly put it, ‘In America, Naturalized Citizens No Longer Have an Assumption of Permanence.’
My friend tried to comfort me, saying that Trump probably won’t be elected for a second term, implying I really have nothing to worry about.
Perhaps this is a small comfort as less damage can be wreaked in four years instead of eight. But, I explained, so much damage will already have been done. So much damage has already been done.
For my husband, the prospect of citizenship under a Trump administration is no longer the guarantee of stability that it was less than two years ago. We cringe silently and push back whenever our Conservative family members raise the topic of immigration, pointing out that my husband is in fact an immigrant, and its only historical accident that his immigration is seen as charming rather than threatening. Although we don’t let on, we are unnerved.
But we are nevertheless the privileged ones. If we are unnerved for ourselves, we are devastated for our refugee friends, those we knew when we lived overseas. The week before we left for America, a Sudanese friend of ours shared he was being resettled along with his family to Boston. That refugee resettlement program is now being dismantled – from 110,000 admissions, down to 50,000, to 45,000, to new talks of 25,000. Eighteen months after we arrived, our friend is still in limbo. Even if our next Commander-in-Chief wants to build it back up, it will take years if not decades to do so.
And so, two more years will already be too much for many. It will be too late for our friends and their families – to get a better education, to go to university, to have a chance at being able to enable their family to thrive instead of just survive for the first time in decades.
It’s too late for families that have been separated at the border. The trauma those children endure will last a life time, and probably into the next generation. Generational trauma is real. Even the grandchildren of those who survived the Holocaust still have altered stress hormones. Native Americans are still reaping the consequences of forced assimilation and boarding schools. And though it eventually ended, all of those lives were still lost. It ended. But it happened – the horrendous damage was already done.
Here, now, the damage is already done. We can prevent more damage from being done, and trying to stop what we can, but there is no quick fix-it switch for what is happening. The damage being done will already last a lifetime and beyond for some. It can be stopped but can’t be undone.
I’ll be fine – rationally, probabilistically. The likelihood of my husband being deported is small (and our bank account is smaller because of that fact). But it isn’t impossible. My husband and I met in South Sudan and had to be evacuated out when war broke out again in 2013. I’ve experiencing having my life completely uprooted. The fact that I’m experiencing the fear of that again now, in my own country, the place that is supposed to be my stable base, is incredibly unsettling. The fear of what could possibly happen to us jolts me awake some nights.
But, even so, my family will probably be fine – he would at least be deported to a safe country that I could, with great expense and after a long period apart, most likely live in too. We hope. But so many others won’t. So many others are being deported back to countries where their lives are highly at risk. I’m not sure how any of these families are able to sleep at night.
And so I can’t shrug that it might be over soon, that it’ll get better, or that any perceived “benefits” are worth the cost. Because the day he took office, it was already too late for my friends.
The wellbeing of our neighbors should be as important to us as our own. And if it’s not – if we don’t see the people this administration is affecting as our neighbors, or if we don’t give it a second thought – we need to ask ourselves why.
Jesus told us where he’s to be found. It is not among the powerful, or among those who tell us that self-preservation is our highest value. Jesus is with those who are hungry, who don’t have clean water, who don’t have a warm coat for a harsh winter, who die of thirst this side of the Rio Grande, who are stuck in cages away from their families. Jesus is among those who look and speak differently than we do, who are seeking safety but are refused, and have nowhere else to go. We often say Jesus is “at the margins” – this is another way of saying Jesus is at the border.
As long as my husband and others that I love struggle and fear, I do too. My own well-being isn’t enough for me to relax – and a shorter Trump presidency is no comfort at all.