Forgotten empathy and diminished hope: A viewpoint on immigration in America

Henry Ibe
Collins, Einhorn, Farrell PC

Immigration is one of the fundamental issues in America in which a great divide exists, as evidenced by the different stands taken by the candidates in the 2016 presidential election. This divide has only been compounded by the attempted travel ban that the President of the United States has tried to execute on select Muslim countries. However, for America to have taken so many steps backwards out of the misguided fear, prejudice, and xenophobia of some in the country to a point where such a ban was even considered is disturbing in itself.

America is and always has been a melting pot of immigrants and foreigners. Tracing the lineage or ancestry of most citizens in the country shows that we are all descendants of immigrants and foreigners that came here willingly or were brought here forcefully. The United States’ diversity can be attributed to the waves of immigrants and foreigners that have made their way from far and wide to call it home. Nonetheless, it appears that some in the country have forgotten that it is that strength in diversity that has made America the great nation it is.

What’s more, some in the country have deluded themselves into thinking that the world revolves solely around America; some are concerned with building barriers to keep themselves separated from the outside world, and others for their selfish reasons wish to have all immigrants, whether legal or illegal, removed from the country. As such, they stir up rhetoric to instigate hatred, fear and prejudice amongst the American people. Regardless of the rationale, there seems to be a forgotten empathy in America today and, as such, diminished hope for immigrants.

Despite the negative stereotypes that have been concocted about immigrants to generate fear in the American people, they cannot all be painted with one brush or made out to be nothing but criminals or terrorists that threaten our country’s security. They are not here to steal our jobs, our homes or whatever we may fear losing. Many immigrants make the long and grueling journey to America from war-torn countries and poverty-stricken regions of the world; from places where people’s fundamental rights are constantly trampled on, and where bribery and corruption virtually are the norm of the day. The fact remains what we do not know, we do not understand. We may see these ills and atrocities perpetrated on our TV screens or in the media, but that does not mean we know the fear or desperation these people have experienced. Fundamentally, their realities are worlds apart from the privileged lives we live here in America.

I am all too familiar with their experiences because once upon a time, it was my reality too. I grew up in a third-world country in West Africa. It was a country in which social ills and unrest had torn through the moral fabric of society, a society in which bribery and corruption were considered a means to an end. It was a country plagued with poor leadership and governance, poverty, failed infrastructure, inadequate educational systems, tribalism, religious conflicts, violence and strife. This is the daily reality in my motherland and there is no hiding from it. Recently, I was fortunate to return to my native country after 13 years of living in America and becoming a U.S. citizen. I never fathomed that things could get worse but they have. The country is currently in an economic recession. Bribery and corruption, unlike past days, are not just a means to an end, but a necessity. The societal ills that I remembered have become even more prevalent. To be honest, words alone cannot adequately paint the picture. Somehow, I may have convinced myself that the situation was not bad or maybe living in America for so long had made me forget these harsh conditions.

Nonetheless, my experience is one of many, and there are those whose have endured much worse. Countless people have had to live through wars, genocides, female genital mutilation, sex trade and religious persecution, among other atrocities. In these harsh circumstances, how can one not consider an escape in search of a better life; how can one not take the opportunity to migrate somewhere better, if presented with the opportunity, damning all consequences. On the other hand, how can there be people in America incapable of feeling empathy for these immigrants’ pain, their plight and their fight for the “American Dream.”

Moreover, in America, there are those immigrants that were brought here illegally as children through no choice of their own. They live in constant fear of being detained by ICE or worse, getting deported from the only home that they have ever known. Under the Obama administration, they were offered some temporary protection with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). However, the new administration has taken a much different view as far as immigration matters are concerned. Thus, the situation has created a heightened sense of fear and instability within the immigrant communities. Not only are these people stuck without a pathway to citizenship but now, more than ever, they have to constantly look over their shoulders to keep their families together.

America is not perfect and it certainly has its share of skeletons in its closet. Further, it is no secret that its immigration system is broken. Regardless, the country has always stood for ideals and values that inspired hope, both home and abroad. In our country’s history, even at times when it seemed we were headed down a dark path, there were those who were willing to fight because they hoped for a better tomorrow. In addition, no symbol, other than perhaps the American Flag, is arguably more synonymous with America than the Statute of Liberty, which stands as a beacon of hope to the world. But it is the quote etched at the bottom of Lady Liberty that inspires even greater hope in the hearts of many. The quote reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

These words embody the greatness and promise of America; A country that seeks not to build walls, but to build bridges; that seeks not to divide, but to unite; that seeks not to diminish, but to ignite hope. The choice to be our brother’s keeper can never be wrong. The fact is every country has the right to regulate immigration as it sees fit and there is no easy solution to fixing the immigration issues in America; however, choosing to stick our heads in the sand, while the country is steered in the wrong direction is not the solution to this problem. We must resist and stand for what is right. We, as Americans, should try to get back to that point of forgotten empathy for our fellow human beings, despite our differences. I believe that then and only then will we as a country be able to start to fix our broken immigration system.

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Henry Ibe is an associate attorney at Collins, Einhorn, Farrell PC. He is experienced in Michigan no-fault and immigration matters.

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