Saturday night, A. and I went to an immigration panel discussion at The Friends School of Atlanta. The Friends School is a Quaker organization, and they host a yearly Beloved Community Dialogue. The “beloved community” was a phrase used often by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to describe his ideal of a completely integrated society, or, as defined by The King Center, “ a society of justice, peace and harmony which can be achieved through nonviolence.” The dialogue at The Friends School is “intended to help us move closer to the ideal of Beloved Community through education and heightened understanding of all aspects of the most challenging civil and human rights issues of our day.”
The issue of immigration is particularly relevant here because Georgia recently passed HB 87, an Arizona-esque anti-illegal immigration act. Senator Jason Carter, son of Jimmy Carter, was on the panel, and he described the law as largely economic. As it was passed (which was gutted from its original, even harsher format), it dictates the employers must verify the status of their employees and allows law enforcement officials to check the papers of any suspected illegal immigrant, with the potential for the individual to be jailed until he or she can produce them.
Also recently, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents passed an act banning any undocumented individual from entering a university with a waitlist–basically the 5 large state universities. Their main justification was that illegal immigrant students are taking away seats from qualified Georgians. Many schools have interpreted this policy to include checking the status of their students, even if they aren’t mandated to. There is an upcoming hearing on HB59 which would, at the state level, ban undocumented students from all state universities and technical schools.
Those are just the facts.
But here are some other facts. There are around 5000 children who have had to enter the foster system because their parents have been detained or deported. Detention facilities make $200 a day per detainee. Undocumented students only account for 501 students out of 310,000 in the Georgia University System. Undocumented college students must pay out of state tuition and cannot apply for any federal aid, so they are not leaching scholarship money from other qualified candidates. Social workers have toiled for years in immigrant communities to help build a trusting relationship with police officers, especially in cases of domestic violence, and that trust has now been broken again because of a fear of being deported. Produce is rotting on farms because there are no laborers available to pick it.
I don’t normally get political on here. In fact, I don’t often get political at all. I used to do Youth Legislature, and I suppose I debated things then, but I have an unfortunate tendency of being afraid to stick my neck out unless I am 100% confident in my position on something. Honestly, I’ve been scared to even learn about the immigration issues facing our country right now, because I knew they would just make me sad. And whenever humans are involved in an issue, human nature impacts it, and it becomes a far cry from a black and white issue, meaning I knew I would be conflicted about taking a stance. But this panel discussion seemed like a “safe” opportunity for me to learn more, and I’d say it was.
Immigration is an interesting issue because pretty much everyone, on both sides of the political fence, agrees that our current system is broken. The differences arise, then, when it comes to discussions on how to fix it. The conclusion I drew from last night’s panel is that it definitely won’t happen overnight, and there’s honestly not too much individuals, or even states, can do. It’s ultimately a federal issue, at least according to Senator Carter. But we can ask ourselves how we personally define community, and if we decide our view involves us all being in it together, we can love our neighbor. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
I’ll be honest and admit I have zero idea about the scope of the economic issues surrounding illegal immigration. I have no idea what effect certain policy changes would have, and I certainly don’t have any suggestions. But what I do see is people, including and especially children, being hurt. I see people who are afraid and who are often treated as less than human. I don’t magically now know where I stand on this issue….and I may never know. But as that saying goes, “I am only one, but I am one.” Whatever that may look like for me, I am one, and I can sure try to love my neighbor.