America has a moral imperative to offer asylum
by Andrea W. Doray
United States from Egypt, where she would have been murdered by her own family as an honor killing because she refused an arranged marriage to her cousin.
A mother and young children travel north from Guatemala to the U.S., fleeing the gang violence, drug wars, and political corruption of their everyday existence.
A Syrian refugee family is finally reunited during the reprieve granted by judicial injunctions against the White House travel ban.
These are real cases, real people who have come to the United States to seek asylum. Their plights, and those of others like them, are the result of religious extremism, brutal repression, and despotism around the world. These people are forced to flee persecution, war, and intolerable conditions at home to seek safety in America.
Immigration – and the age-old debate that consumes it – continues to take center stage not only for politicians around the world, but also for those with strong convictions on this issue, one way or the other.
As an American, I am horrified at current policies and proposals from our very highest levels of government not only to deny admission to refugees, but also to hunt down law-abiding people who have made their lives here and to send them back to the desperate circumstances they once fled.
Fortunately, American immigration lawyers, expert witnesses, and researchers come together to detail country conditions for asylum officials, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) attorneys, and immigration judges. They help to explain situations that immigration officials themselves often cannot even imagine happening, using details, reliable reports about human rights violations, and expert testimony to support the truths of violence, poverty, and brutal repression that asylum-seekers face day to day in their home countries.
Of course, under the current U.S. administration, the lives of those who are at risk if they are deported to their homelands have become lives of fear in America. The government has ramped up its efforts to send asylum-seekers back, at a staggering multi-billion-dollar cost and a waste of precious time and resources in the already overworked court system.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. government spends an average of $12,500 to arrest, detain, and deport just one person who has arrived in the country illegally, or who has overstayed his or her visa. A study released by the Migration Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC, found that, in the post 9/11 era, nearly $18 billion federal tax dollars were spent on immigration enforcement in 2012 alone – an amount greater than that spent on every other federal law enforcement agency combined.
Surely there are better uses for this money than chasing people who have sought or are seeking asylum in the U.S., and sending them back to certain imprisonment, torture, persecution, and, in many cases, death. Persecution, as defined by U.S. law, includes serious harm because of an applicant’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group.
Refusing asylum to people who have come the country for their safety does not represent, as I understand them, either the values of our society or the ideals of the United States of America.
My own grandparents, Timor and Lucretia, immigrated from Romania, entering the U.S. through Canada at the turn of the 20th century to escape the unrest and volatility of Eastern Europe. Timothy John, as my grandfather was known, worked as a janitor, ultimately headed a group of janitors, and helped other Romanian immigrants come to America.
Certainly much has changed since then: America had been seen as a beacon of hope and stability for people who have fled their home countries in fear for their lives. But because of its regressive policies and often-convoluted regulations, our government now endeavors to send them back.
Those helping immigrants through the U.S. court system say they encounter two basic reactions from ICE officials, DHS attorneys, and immigration judges to asylum cases: those who believe this country should welcome asylum applicants, and those who believe their responsibility is to serve as gatekeepers. These two worldviews reflect our larger society as a whole, with some of us believing that we are better because of immigration, and others who regard immigrants and asylum-seekers with both fear and anger. After September 11, and with the creation of the DHS, whose aim was originally to protect us from terrorist threats, there exists in many circles a deep-seated fear and mistrust of immigrants.
It would be hard to overstate the trauma, terror, and shame of women fleeing rape or female genital mutilation, or the fears of dissidents who are beaten or tortured for their political views, or the profound losses of families wrenched apart by civil strife, religious extremism, and outright war.
As Americans, I believe we have a moral imperative to uphold the ideals of life and liberty, and offer these same protections for those who seek safety in new lives here.
That’s how I see it, from my little corner of the world …
P.S. Our 2017 edition of DoveTales: An International Journal of the Arts focuses on “Refugees and the Displaced.” Order your copy here for insightful writing on this issue, and to support the efforts of Writing for Peace.
Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning journalist, author, poet, and essayist in Denver, CO, and is occasionally a columnist for The Denver Post through their Colorado Voices panel. Her weekly opinion column, Alchemy, which appears in Colorado Community Media newspapers, has received a first-place award from the Colorado Press Association. Learn more about Andrea and her work here.
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