Three recent events serve as reminders of what incredible luck it is to be born in this country, and what immense benefits come from being able to take citizenship for granted.
The first was the ICE arrest just outside the Thurston County courthouse in June. Three plainclothes agents scuffled with a man who had just emerged from a court appearance, took him to the ground, handcuffed him, hustled him into an unmarked truck, and drove away.
The second was the news that Temple Beth Hatfiloh, the synagogue in downtown Olympia, has taken an indigenous Guatemalan woman and her young son into sanctuary after the denial of her asylum application. She is appealing because she fears that if they are sent back, her husband will kill them.
The third was a heart-stopping play called “The Detention Lottery,” written by Margaret O’Sullivan, an immigration attorney, and featuring a cast that includes several other immigration lawyers. The play, put on at the temple, vividly portrays the helplessness and horror of a series of deportation hearings before a humorless judge, who is both bound by arbitrary rules and given to using them to support her own views. She deports a man who has been in this country for 28 years, has a wife and three children, and is a skilled carpenter who has worked for the same employer for 15 years – only because she has a thing about DUIs, and he got one seven years ago. He was described by the Department of Homeland Security prosecutor as “collateral damage” of a workplace raid.
Another vignette is the story of a woman who came here from South Korea with permanent resident status when she married an American in 1982 and raised their children. After a surgery, she got in trouble with pain medication, ended up being arrested on a drug charge, and was deported, with virtually no hope of ever returning to the U. S.
These stories give us clues about what it is like to live with the fear that when your parents leave the house to go to work in the morning, you cannot be sure they will come home.
Immigration policy has always been fraught. And as long as the world is organized into nation states with borders and rules about who can cross them, perhaps it always will be.
But never before has our nation’s immigration system created such a pervasive, well-founded fear for so many people in our community. And never before has it been a system so explicitly hostile to the bedrock American value of immigration.
One result is that a woman and child are confined to the Temple, probably for many months.
Another consequence is that people who are undocumented (and even those who are legal residents) fear showing up at our courthouse. If you’re a woman who wants to file for protection from domestic abuse, a witness at a trial, or the victim of a crime, you are likely to feel that seeking justice is dangerous.
The only good news is that local actions can make a difference in this dark time for national immigration policy.
We commend Thurston County’s prosecutor, superior and district court presiding judges, county commissioners, and other local law and justice officials for their work to craft policies that protect all people’s access to justice at the courthouse.
We are glad to see implementation of a new state law called the Keep Washington Working act that, among other things, seeks to minimize deportations in our state and to protect everyone’s access to local courts. And we are glad that local citizens packed the room when these initiatives were discussed.
We are also glad that our community has several engaged and effective nonprofits and community groups working to protect immigrant rights, including CIELO, the South Sound Faith Network for Immigration and Refugee Support, and Strengthening Sanctuary.
And we are especially grateful to Temple Beth Hatfiloh Immigration and Refugee Task Force for hosting both the play and caring for a refugee woman and child.
Seth Goldstein, the Temple’s rabbi, noted that “The American Jewish community is the story of immigration, of fleeing oppression and hardship, and seeking safety and security on these shores.”
That history – specifically pogroms in Russia in the 1880s that led to the immigration of 1.5 million Jews to America – inspired the Jewish poet Emma Lazarus to write the poem that graces the Statue of Liberty.
We look forward to the day when our nation’s immigration policy is based on reason and compassion rather than racism and fear. But these local developments remind us that until then, it’s up to us, right here in Thurston County, to do all we can to protect our neighbors from an immigration system that has gone wildly awry.