I’m Spending Memorial Day with Immigrants

For several years I have volunteered for an organization that partners with internationals attending our local university. By picking them up from the airport, helping them buy winter coats, hosting a weekly community dinner, and connecting them to neighborhood resources, the goal is to ensure that international students and their families are made to feel welcomed and loved.

Welcoming and loving foreigners is a distant concept to much of America today. Americans voted in 2016 based on “cultural anxiety.” Attacks against people of color in the form of white supremacist rallies and police shootings have been exposed. A country that prides itself in aligning with “Christian” morality has come to a point where Christians are the least likely to accept responsibility for refugees. Most recently, immigrants have been indefinitely separated from their children, and thousands of undocumented children have been subsequently lost.

The organization I volunteer for has had to find creative ways to address these issues without implying that Americans are bad people. The Muslim students were issued a statement encouraging them to stay in the States instead of traveling home, as their ability to return to complete their education could not be assured. They have had to advise students of color on how to address the police if they get pulled over.

Luckily, these tangible efforts have shown our local immigrants that there are still Americans who care about their well-being, but it is increasingly difficult. Every year the organization hosts a picnic on Memorial Day, a quintessentially American holiday, and a military holiday at that. This year in particular, I don’t know how I can justify a celebratory mood.

Many of the people at this picnic are from countries we have bombed. Many of the people at this picnic are from countries we have banned from accessing travel visas. How are we supposed to celebrate our nation alongside people our government would gladly exile?

The timing of events this week have not helped matters. Reading the stories of mothers who came to America to flee violence in their home country only to have their infant children taken from their arms at the border, I am disgusted by what our country has become.

I am even more disgusted by the lack of interest from those in power. America has decidedly fallen into a nationalistic set of principles, and either no one noticed or no one cared. What once was a melting pot for dreamers has been replaced with chants to build a wall. We want the “American Dream” for ourselves but have no desire to share it.

We defend these ideals with patriotic platitudes about our sovereign nation having the right to take in whomever we please, and that those who want to take advantage of our great country should prove themselves worthy enough to enter.

Franklin Graham, the Evangelical champion for international relief, believes “we need to be far more selective of who we allow into this country we’ve had this open door policy for too long, we cannot afford it,” while also saying “As Christians we are clearly taught in the Bible to care for the poor and oppressed.” So we should care for the least of these as long as they don’t step on our manicured lawns?

Rick Santorum was on CNN this week claiming that the missing migrant children aren’t lost at all; this is just a bureaucratic paperwork problem. So we should make sure the court system is doing it’s job, but we don’t have to do anything about systemic racism that turns a blind eye to people of color?

These are excuses, not solutions. But as long as I’ve got mine, the immigrants can go get theirs, right? They’re of no concern to us.

All it takes is a single conversation with a foreigner to realize they are not so different from us. They want what we want. They hope what we hope. It doesn’t take long to see our country’s actions as indefensible — we are knee deep in a national disgrace.

Don’t misunderstand: fallen soldiers deserve recognition and honor for their sacrifice today. Anyone who willingly risks their lives to protect their country’s freedoms is one worthy of respect. But especially today, it is crucial (and should not by any means be considered out of line) to acknowledge that this is not the America they fought for. This America is not the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is a land of cowards, too selfish and scared of losing the perfect order they created for themselves that they are unwilling to make room for anyone or anything outside their white picket fence.

So I’m spending Memorial Day with immigrants. I’ll be taking their pictures and hearing their stories, learning about their struggles and what America means to them.

I suggest more of us do the same.