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I sat in a room recently with moms and dads who learned about how they can prepare their families in the event of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.
I learned about the importance of having a plan – collecting documents and birth certificates, authorizing someone to pick children up from school, ensuring children born in the United States are registered in the country of their parents’ birth so they aren’t rendered stateless should the family have to relocate.
I learned about explaining to small children that they should not open the door when they hear knocking, because opening a door invites U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enter the home and take their mommy or daddy even if they don’t have a warrant.
I learned that in my state, a notary’s stamp is only good for six months, so a document declaring a power of attorney to a friend or family member in the event that you’re not there to care for your own children should be kept up to date. Just in case.
These scenarios are horrifying to me. And there is no good explanation, other than my skin color and the timing of my own family’s immigration, for why I’m only imagining these chilling scenarios while my neighbors are living them. When my family immigrated to the U.S., they did so under a system that allowed someone who was willing and able to work to find a legal pathway, and that’s exactly how they did it. But now willingness is irrelevant – a person has to already have a job. Unskilled workers need not apply.
And more than that, when my family immigrated to the U.S., they did so under a system that explicitly favored people from northern and western Europe: white people, like my great-grandparents. If you’re white and your family came before 1965, then the quotas favored you, too. That means your family’s immigration story is less about bootstraps and moxie and more about a system that was rigged in your favor.
GETTING IN LINE
If my family tried to immigrate today, they’d find themselves asking what line they could get in – and they’d find themselves among the 11 million undocumented immigrants for whom there is simply no line.
Except my ancestors, being white, would likely not be a target of U.S. President Donald Trump’s current immigration-enforcement plans. Under the latest memos, it seems clear that the intention is to round up anyone who looks illegal – any immigrant who has ever been convicted of a crime, who has merely been accused of a crime or who simply appears to the officer like he or she might commit a crime.
And people who look like me are less criminal-looking to the average American, I think. People who look like me more closely resemble what I guess is meant by Making America Great Again. So even if they snuck into the U.S. today and went around a system that no longer would welcome them, my ancestors would probably still be fine.
I went to pick up my kid from school today and realized my wallet wasn’t in my purse when I got to the car. I put the keys in the ignition anyway and drove to school. The whole way there I thought about my whiteness – whiteness that emboldens me to drive without a license, that allows me to arrive late to school without my child panicking that he’ll never see me again, that allows me to easily find a chair at the Preparing for Immigration Enforcement presentation that is half as full as it should be because too many of those most affected by these draconian policies were just too scared to leave the house.
Immigration in the U.S. is not, if you ask me, really about economics, or security or the rule of law. It is not about “what part of illegal don’t you understand?” It is not about keeping us safe from criminals.
It is really about race.
“But God has composed the body … that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12).
Kate Kooyman is an immigration organizer for the Christian Reformed Church and a graduate of Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan. This essay originally appeared on Perspectives’ blog, The Twelve.