Columnist Claire Day: Must fight for rights of immigrants


Published: 4/2/2018 1:25:05 PM

My parents were immigrants to the United Kingdom. They arrived there in the late 1930s, separately, as they hadn’t yet met.

Even though the country was on the verge of war, like immigrants here, they were grateful for what their new land had to offer them: a fresh start, modest work, the opportunity to make friends, raise a family — to put down roots.

Over the years my parents touched others’ lives in positive, sometimes life-changing ways, sharing with neighbors whose circumstances were even more modest than theirs, dispensing advice to friends who sought their help. In other words, they contributed to their adopted society.

My parents were refugees, forced to flee a homeland in which they were no longer safe, in which they had been designated “untermenschen,” or subhumans who were no longer protected by law. My father was fortunate to get out of a concentration camp. My mother was fortunate to have an employer who chose to hide her rather than hand her over to a roundup bound for the camps.

But that didn’t mean they were safe. Every day they lived with fear. If England hadn’t taken them in, that would have been the end of them. If England had sent them back, the same would have been true.

So what terrible thing had each of my parents done to be forced to leave the only country they had known as home, the country they had once loved —forced to sign papers declaring they would never return?

The answer is that they were who they always had been — part of a minority race. They were normal people who lived, worked, made friends and led regular lives until the 1930s and the advent of a dreadful, warped regime. From then on their lives were never the same.

I think of my parents when I see what is happening to immigrants here – ordinary people who have, in many cases, lived here for decades. They are people who, like them, left dangerous homelands to put down new roots and make safe lives for themselves and their families.

Now, for no other reason than being who they have always been — minorities, they are deported, or living with the constant fear of deportation. They are imprisoned based on the flimsiest of reasons, branded with hateful labels, viewed with suspicion and animosity by segments of our population, demonized by those who have the power to make laws that upend their lives and the lives of their families from whom they are torn.

Why? Why do we create outcasts in a nation that was settled by outcasts; a nation that has thrived on the contributions of immigrants? How can we even consider sending people back to the very countries they fled in fear? How can people who go home at the end of each day to spouses, children, parents, rip apart families to make a living?

I am heartsick at the seismic shift on immigration that has happened with unbelievable speed. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ mission statement no longer contains the words “nation of immigrants.” I am appalled at our government for bringing this about. I am, at the very least, perplexed by those who carry out inhumane orders.

Of course there are people who do not subscribe to the current climate, and work to improve it in ways both small and large, from support on an individual basis, to fighting anti-immigrant legislation in the courts.

But, the numbers of immigrants being marginalized is staggering. Hundred of thousands from Central America and the Caribbean are having their right of residency systematically removed. The so-called “Dreamers” have recently lost theirs. Then there are those who never had those rights, who came here illegally because it was the only way out of their desperate circumstances.

The path away from this rampant racism wrapped in other terms is long, and its end is not in view. One day, we will look back on this period of time, as we look back on segregation and slavery, with shame and remorse. But that day is nowhere near at hand. In the meanwhile, we must live our values as best we can, giving help and support wherever and whenever we are able.

I have always believed that any good we do sends out ripples like a stone tossed into water.

I cling to the hope that the number of those fighting for the rights of immigrants will grow exponentially, that their good will grow exponentially, until one day our humanity as a nation returns.

Claire Day, an expat from northern England, is a retired educator and local writer who lives in Easthampton.

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