What Would June Think of the Hostilities Toward Immigrants?

July 5, 2016

Many years ago, when I was a graduate student, I inherited June when a fellow graduate student left the Berkeley area. She was a precious gift in more ways than I expected.

June cleaned my house as I never did and no one has since. While she cleaned, I edited the very long novel she’d written — essentially converting words and phrases into colloquial American English.

She needed the edit — and it was the only compensation she wanted — because she’d come to this country from China, with only the English she’d learned at school and had to become more fluent just be listening and figuring out what people meant.

The novel was her effort to tell English speakers about what she’d witnessed during the Second World War and the Communist takeover afterwards. Parts of it were truly brilliant. So reading it was part of the gift.

Talking with June was another part. We’d sit at the kitchen table for brief conversations before tackling our separate tasks. We generally talked about word changes I’d made, but not always. June was a sharp observer and intellectually curious.

I recall her asking me one day what she could read about “brothers fighting brothers.” I understood she meant our Civil War — much on her mind, given her post-war time on the mainland before she fled to Taiwan.

Fled alone, with her young son because the air force pilot she’d married, over her parents’ objections, wanted to have concubines when he returned home.

She’d lose face, she said, if she went back to her parents. Instead, she bravely moved here, where she knew no one — or anything about working for a living. Yet she found enough work that paid enough to support herself and “the boy.”

She managed somehow to find time for the novel, while still paying for rent, food and the like, but only after she’d also paid for at least some of her son’s college costs.

I think of June now because I wonder what she’d think about our country today. We surely do have a version of “brother against brother” — several versions actually.

June, I know, would disapprove of in-your-face actions and shoving at political rallies. She had very strong feelings about decorum. She’d remark on the shouting and shoving among kids passing by on their way home from the nearby public school. Their parents didn’t bring them up properly, she’d say.

I’m more curious about how June would view the blatant hostility to immigrants that Trump has surfaced and fostered.

She’d understand, I think, that the hostility isn’t directed toward people like her. We do see hostility against Asians in some quarters, but it’s mainly focused on high-achievers, in the conventional sense — college students, for example, and graduates with high-tech jobs.

Might June nevertheless feel unwanted — anxious even? All that talk of deportation. I’m quite sure she had the paperwork authorizing her residency. But she’d never become a citizen. She stubbornly insisted — my urgings notwithstanding — that she’d need to know more about our country first.

This had nothing to do with whether she could pass the test. She’d completed night school courses to prepare for that. But she believed she had to know more than most native-born Americans do before becoming an American herself.

And what, I wonder, would June think about the administration’s rounding up and deporting immigrants who, like her, had come to this country for safety and better lives for their children.

She was a devout Christian. I’m inclined to think she’d have based her view on what the Bible says about caring for strangers and loving neighbors as ourselves. But the Bible also speaks of honoring laws. And for whatever reason, June showed no tolerance for law-breakers.

She and I lost touch some time after I left Berkeley. That was back in the days when keeping in touch meant sending letters through the postal system or making long-distance calls.

June had little spare time, what with the still-unfinished novel — and very little money. I was short on both too, but basically just didn’t try to sustain the connection. I couldn’t help her. She wouldn’t let me. And I got none of the rewards of our weekly conversations.

I’m quite sure June is dead now. I couldn’t possibly find her anyway. But I do wish I could hear her thoughts on the immigration debate — if we can call it that. And I think of how she enriched not only my life, but the country she loved perhaps more than she should have.



Shoutrage at Refugee Family Detention Camps

February 23, 2015

We interrupt this stream of semi-wonkish posts to bring you a burst of shoutrage — a coined word I’ve been looking for an occasion to use ever since I found it nearly a year ago in The New York Times Sunday magazine.

The magazine has now provided the occasion — an intensively-researched story about “the shame of America’s detention camps.” If you haven’t read it, you truly should, unless you want to spare yourself a sense of outrage and a sinking feeling that shouting about it won’t spur the reforms needed to end the shame.

A brief overview nonetheless so you’ll see what you’re in for — and why I felt compelled to veer from my usual topics.

The shameful detention camps are where our federal government is holding hundreds of families who’ve come to this country seeking refuge from death threats, rape (threatened and committed) and other violence perpetrated by gangs in several Central American countries.

They’re packed into these facilities, sometimes eight to a room. Needless to say, communicable diseases spread. This is especially the case because many children won’t eat the food that’s served — at least in part because it’s so different from what they’re used to.

“The first time I went in,” said a paralegal, “all I could hear was a symphony of coughing and sneezing and crying and wailing.”

Children who aren’t too young or too debilitated to benefit from education don’t get regular schooling, though they’re legally entitled to it, as well as medical care, exercise and housing in “the least restrictive environment possible.”

The families are held in the detention camps until they can get a hearing to determine whether a further hearing might find they are indeed refugees eligible to remain in this country. They’ve no attorneys to represent them, unless they’re one of the relative few whom volunteers can serve.

The rest, of course, have no idea how to answer the judge’s questions so as to ping the legal criteria. And they’ve got to ping them quickly because judges swift them through the process. Those who luck out may not know they have because only the judge’s questions are translated.

Most who are in the hearing room on their own don’t luck out. One judge reportedly has denied an average of 91.6% of asylum requests.

Children sent back to Honduras “just return to die,” said a morgue operator there. And that’s true not only for Honduras. Ten children were killed after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency flew them back to El Salvador.

What’s become of the parents who were shipped back is perhaps unknowable. But it’s clear that families who’ve asked our government for a chance to live safely are routinely denied due process in what are effectively death penalty cases.

My late husband Jesse and I had an expression we’d use when talking, as we so often did, about policies that distressed us. “Bad Rs.” I’d like to say that now, but I can’t.

True, lead Republicans in Congress have said they won’t do anything to reform our outdated immigration system until our borders are secure — and the President is enforcing the existing laws, as they understand them.

Also true that they made a huge deal about all those Central American children crossing the border and blamed the President because he’d allowed some children who were already in this country to remain.

And it was the Bush administration that first claimed it wasn’t legally bound by a long-standing court settlement to favor release over incarceration whenever refugee children were involved. Only, it said, when they weren’t accompanied by parents.

But it was the Obama administration that made the same argument — earning a smack-down from the judge, as the Bush administration had.

It’s the Obama administration that decided to resume detention as a routine response to families seeking refuge. It’s the Obama administration that’s running the camps, overseeing the court system and shipping thousands back to dangers they’d fled.

“Our message to this group is simple,” the Secretary of Homeland Security testified last July. “We will send you back.” No evident concern about to what.

One infers from the Times story that the ICE doesn’t much like those volunteer attorney/advocates gumming up the wheels of injustice — nor journalists investigating the camps.

Neither a lead attorney nor the correspondent who wrote the story could get permission to tour the camp where they’d temporarily settled in. The latter cites two related instances when ICE basically stonewalled questions about the school issue.

Well, a fair amount of the shameful business is public now, including angles I haven’t even touched on. One would like to think there’d be shoutrage where it would make a difference. Not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Now there’s a ray of hope for some of the detained families. You can learn about it here.