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Want to Be a Better Ally to Immigrants? Try These New Year’s Resolutions.

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to step up your game when it comes to supporting — and fighting alongside — immigrants.

2017 was devastating for immigrants and our families. Within days of his inauguration, Trump signed three of his seven executive orders on immigration, including the first version of the Muslim Ban. Between January and September, ICE deported 61,094 immigrants — that’s a 37 percent increase over the same time period in 2016. Also in September, the Trump administration rescinded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and put the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in jeopardy. The Department of Homeland Security ended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for citizens of Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. And that’s not even a comprehensive list of the ways Trump has attacked immigrant and refugee communities. 

2018 could be just as disastrous and deadly for immigrants without a broad movement of people collectively fighting for our rights — which is why it’s so important for allies to critically reflect on their words and actions. As you’re thinking about ways to stand in solidarity with immigrants and fight against the Trump Administration, here are a few feminist, intersectional, pro-immigrant resolutions you can make this year:

1. Avoid using the word “illegal” to describe human beings. As journalist Maria Hinojosa says,“illegal” is an adjective, not a noun. This is not simply a matter of grammatical correctness, but of ethics and basic human decency. Saying someone is “illegal” is dehumanizing; it suggests that person’s very existence is a criminal act. Instead, you can say someone without legal status or a person who is undocumented. 

2. Avoid bashing our homelands, or asking us to do it for you. I’ve heard one too many allies defend me and other immigrants by saying our countries are burning or we “had no choice but to leave.” This line of reasoning makes it seem as if all immigrants have the same motives for migrating and that our countries are hopeless and helpless. Our countries, where many of our family members and loved ones still reside, are painted in racist, colonialist terms. Liberal feminists will often point out how backwards our homelands are; they’ll say the Global South is misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-woman and that the Muslim woman is especially in need of saving. They say we had no choice but to leave; we would have no future if we would have stayed. They do this without acknowledging the United States’ role in contributing to the conditions we escaped. And they do this without realizing there is life in our countries, too. 

3. Avoid using the phrase “a nation of immigrants” to explain the United States’ founding. The history of the United States is a history of genocide and colonialism. The “founding fathers” displaced and murdered indigenous peoples and built this country on the backs of enslaved Africans who were forcibly brought here. We are not all immigrants and the first people to live here certainly were not “immigrants.” Though I understand the impulse to use this language to normalize immigration, it’s crucial that we don’t erase the violence enacted on indigenous and black people in order for the US to exist.

4. Stop requiring us to perform patriotism or drape ourselves in the American flag in order to prove that we belong here. In response to the famous Women’s March poster designed by Shepard Fairey, Joojoo Azad asked allies to “please keep your American flag off my hijab.” She reminds us that Muslims are tired of having to “prove” they are American. Immigrants and religious and racial minorities are constantly burdened with having to parade our patriotism and demonstrate our loyalty to this country. We call ourselves “Dreamers” and tie our struggles to this flawed idea of the “American dream.” We are asked to pledge allegiance to this flag while denouncing our homelands. We are invited to memorize the national anthem while forgetting our mother tongue. We are told to declare our love and loyalty for this country, to say that even though we weren’t born here, we are #heretostay. In reality, many of us live con un pie aca y un pie alla (with one foot here and one foot there).

5. Avoid using the “immigrants serve in our military too” narrative to call for respect for immigrants. For immigrants who come from countries that have been drone-striked, devastated, and desecrated by U.S. armed forces, the military represents the destruction of our homelands and it is a reminder of the violence our families continue to face. We shouldn’t have to pillage our home countries to receive dignity here. (Read Mahroh’s piece for more on this form of respectability politics — and why we should reject this narrative when it comes to non-immigrant people of color here too).

6. Recognize that not all immigrants share the same experiences, and that Black, Muslim, poor, and queer migrants face additional barriers. Although Black immigrants make up 7 percent of non-citizens in the U.S., they make up 20 percent of those facing deportation. Trans immigrants in detention centers are often misgendered, assaulted, and abused at extreme rates. It is crucial that allies recognize the ways race, gender, class, and sexuality affect how immigrants are treated by immigration officials and perceived by our neighbors and our access to jobs, services, and resources. 

7. I’ve said this before, but I’ll add it as a final tip: stop reducing immigrants worth to our productivity and respectability. We are not worthy because we “get the job done,” or because we contribute to this country’s economy. Mediocre immigrants deserve protection. High school dropouts deserve legal status. Single mothers deserve a social security number. Bad hombres deserve a path to citizenship.

We are all worthy because we are human beings. Advocate for all immigrants in 2018.

Header image via Essence.

Durham, NC

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Barbara is a doctoral student at The University of North Carolina interested in im/migration and migrant activism and organizing.

Read more about Barbara

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