The anxiety is more killer than usual these days, right? I mean this past week alone has felt like a month. The breakneck pace of news combined with the avalanche of uncertainty and divisiveness is just so overwhelming, and it’s like you’re being squeezed. Some days it’s even hard to start the day. Some days, closing my eyes and pressing the skip button seems like a more preferable outcome.
Writing has traditionally been my escape from all those bad feelings that tend to bottle up inside. Vomit it on to a piece of paper — or in this case, the screen — I say and see if anything good comes out of it. It usually works, but in some cases, even then, even organizing my thoughts feels quite small. I get that feeling a lot when I read the news too. All of these big problems or big atrocities require these huge solutions, and I’m caught between wanting to do something and feeling like anything I do won’t matter.
Recently, this all-consuming depression has bubbled up repeatedly when I watch Netflix’s harrowing documentary, Immigration Nation. A phenomenal docuseries that gives an inside look into the nitty gritty workings of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I’m almost finished with the series, but something I keep coming back to every episode is this sense of shock at how apathetic and disinterested ICE agents can be when confronted in even the most minute ways.
“I’m just following orders…”
“It’s the law…”
“If only they’d try to come in, the right way…”
We’ve all heard these refrains echoed over and over again. Every episode I tend to swing wildly between screaming at the TV and stunned silence. I mean it’s hard for me to even figure out where to begin. You could start with the grandmother who asked for asylum, was separated from her granddaughter, held for over a year without explanation, and then sent back to her home country, most likely to her death. You could begin with the young man who was brought to the US by his parents when he was only a few years old, grew up in the US, has a spotless record, but is now being deported because he ran a red light. You could even start with the ICE Agent’s shrug when he is asked point-blank if deporting a young man who was brought here as a child seemed right.
We could mention the fact that the Trump Administration has systematically worked to dismantle almost every avenue of legal immigration possible despite their refrain being that they wished undocumented immigrants would just come in the “right” way. We could talk about ICE intentionally tearing up families and deporting people who aren’t a threat in order to enact vicious retribution on cities and counties who dare challenge them. We could talk about how ICE always claims that their hands are tied when in fact that is a lie. ICE and the government choose to be apathetic. Additionally, ICE and the U.S. government have repeatedly chosen cruelty under the weak guise of just following the law.
What they don’t want you to know is that our immigration system doesn’t have to be this way. There is absolutely no need for this type of disinterested cruelty that is so prevalent in how we view the law and its enforcement. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you or attempting to justify their own questionable beliefs or behavior. Our immigration system does not have to be cruel. It’s only harmful because we allow it to be.
Congress has repeatedly taken a backseat as all of this callous inhumanity is enacted on families just trying to stay safe, or make a better life for themselves, or any other exceedingly normal reason. It shouldn’t matter. I read an article today in Rolling Stone by Tessa Stuart that outlined just how hard it will be for our next president to undo the damage that Trump has done to our immigration system. Because of the constant flash flood that our news ecosystem has turned into over the past four years, Stephen Miller, Trump’s racist pet goblin and chief architect of Trump’s immigration vision, has managed to slip thousands of changes to our immigration system without anyone noticing.
This is by design. Miller has even said this himself that he wants to make it as hard as possible for another president to reverse back all the havoc he has wrought. Truly insidious as this plan may be, my gut instinct then is to push a potential Biden administration and hopefully a Democratic-controlled Congress to go big. Our immigration system has been in desperate need of attention for a long time. Congress needs to start over, overhaul the whole thing, and focus on a new system that focuses on empathy, not cruelty.
Only then will the United States begin to live up to its moniker as the shining city on a hill. Nowadays, all people see is a dream version of America that has yet to materialize. In its place, exists a cruel trap that will only ever spit you back out, oftentimes to your death.