On my way to visit my great aunt in New Jersey, I stopped at a rest stop. After purchasing something to eat for lunch, I sat down. At a nearby table, there was a woman wearing the uniform of one of the fast-food restaurants present at that rest-stop. The woman was eating her lunch. Another woman came by and spoke with her briefly before continuing on to do her work. They spoke to each other in Haitian Creole. Since we were at very close by tables, both of us eating alone, I decided to start a conversation. I started the conversation by sharing my observation in Haitian Creole that she speaks Haitian Creole.
We chatted about soup joumou, mangoes, and other Haitian foods. Then, she talked about how life is difficult in the United States. She has a couple of children and no other family here. She misses her country and her family a lot.
In Haiti the majority of people are not able to find what would be considered stable employment. Even with a hard to come by regular job, she would most likely be making considerably less money in a day than she is probably making an hour at the fast-food restaurant. Still, raising children in the US, especially in a part of the country where the cost of living is high, must be a struggle. She is doing so without the emotional and social support of extended family that she likely had in Haiti. I felt a wave of empathy for her and realizing how for her both staying in Haiti and coming to the US, would so very difficult and in a much deeper way than I can honestly say I have experienced because so much of her energy probably goes into meeting basic needs, simply surviving.
Immigration is a major topic on the news in this country these days since there is so much disagreement over funding of a wall to keep people who don't have the proper paperwork from entering the United States. Currently, the federal government is partially shut down because of this. While reflecting upon the conversation I had with the worker at the rest-stop, what I have witnessed in Haiti and the current political discourse in the United States, I concluded that at least from my perspective the whole immigration conversation and efforts are misguided.
Certainly, I don't know how to solve the world's complicated problems myself, but I was thinking, what if all of the money that could go into a wall, or other forms of "border security," would instead be used to seek creative solutions to eradicating poverty and work towards eliminating the conditions that drive people to leave their beloved families and homelands? Immigration is not the problem; "illegal immigration" is a symptom and response to systemic problems and extreme injustice. I am not saying that reallocating the much-debated potential "wall" money would fully solve any problem, just considering that it may be more effective; I am convinced that it would at least no less effective than a wall and much more humane. Please understand, I am not suggesting that the money be allocated as charity, which can alleviate some short-term suffering but typically does nothing to change the system and too often reinforces unjust power differentials. Let's get to the root of real problems instead of paranoid self-protection and obsessive exclusion. The goal of any immigration policy would not be to exclude people who would choose to come to the United States, but to make it possible for those who would prefer to live in their homeland to do so and have access to employment that pays wages that allow them to do more than barely survive, access to quality education for their children, and basic protections of civil rights and safety.
Let's listen to the stories and try to understand the realities of immigrants who have come to the US and those who desire to leave their countries because of the conditions they experience. Let us not forget the stories of people in our own families (like my great aunt who I am visiting) who immigrated and the challenges they faced. Let us build relationships instead of walls.
Last time I updated the blog, I was not sure if or when I would write again but felt inspired to share my reflection. Thanks for taking the time to read it. So many people who read my previous blog responded with support and compassion; thank you!