The first home of democracy is the human heart

“The human heart is the first home of democracy.” – Terry Tempest Williams, as quoted by Parker J. Palmer, The Politics of the Broken Hearted, 2005.

Parker Palmer offered his reflections: “This ‘one nation, indivisible’ is deeply divided along political, economic, racial and religious lines. And despite our historic dream of being “a light unto the nations,” the gaps between us and our global neighbors continue to grow more deadly. The conflicts and contradictions of twenty–first-century life are breaking the American heart and threatening to compromise our democratic values.”

America used to feel like the safest country there is for immigrants.

In 1972, I remember being homesick. I cried pretty regularly in six months. I also felt the rush of claiming the opportunities to make something of my life.

After six months of being unemployed, I was finally hired at an insurance company.

In the evening and weekends, I volunteered to be part of a civil rights group — one that advocated for the restoration of democracy and human and civil rights in the Philippines. During that time, martial law had just been declared in the country.

Three principles were important to me: tell the truth, serve the people wholeheartedly and love folks with all your might.

Because of that, I expanded my concept of family: I had family at work, family in the community, family in the quality professional organizations, family of close women friends.

Then, I sensed a sea change.  America started feeling unsafe to me, a naturalized U.S. citizen.

The newspaper headlines reported that 800,000 undocumented immigrants were deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008-2010.

In the first half of 2011, ICE ‘s goal is 411,000 deportations.

A week before, Pulitzer-prize winning, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas re-ignited the firestorm for immigration issues, when he shared his riveting personal story that he is undocumented.

A new movie, “A Better Life” was then in the theaters.  It is a story of love between a gardener father who cuts trees in upscale Los Angeles neighborhoods, and his teenage son who goes to a school in Los Angeles challenged and terrorized by gangs in his school.  Their lives were torn apart when the father was deported to Mexico.

During the film premiere, an octogenarian Hungarian dancer, M.W., stood up to compliment the producers. She said she identified with the characters and felt their fears, although she had nothing in common with them. Nonetheless, their fears felt like her own during the holocaust.

The same fears were depicted when I saw a short documentary of the Road to Freedom exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center. Rabbi Rachel Cowen described the civil rights movement as “ a religion, a secular creed, a community, with values, its liturgy, its rituals, part of a larger narrative, with its high ideals that the world can improve, love would conquer, it would triumph.”

Dorothy Zellner spoke of her conviction, that when you see such inhumanity, there is a moral imperative to go “ thou shalt not stand idly by.”

Half of the white attorneys working in the South were Jews who felt a kinship with the injustice happening to blacks.  Rabbi Prinz shared a “ sense of complete identification and solidarity born of their painful experience.” This mattered to him to take a stand: will he allow these state troopers to kill in his name?

These were the dilemmas that they faced, dilemmas that are like ours now, as we are confronted with the issue of immigration reform for 11 million undocumented individuals.

I had a conversation with Fr. Alberto Carreon, 88, who is the resident priest of Assumption Church. His special ministry is to teach sobriety through faith. He has been in the forefront in advocating for immigration reform, leading a 2,000 person strong rally in Nevada, and after, he was invited to dialogue with Senator Harry Reid’s staffers.

His position is to revive the bracero program to give a legal path to progress to those who want to work in the U.S.  He believes that after three years of a consistent, law-abiding track record of employment, these workers have earned the right to apply for a green card.

He cites the history of immigrants from Europe who fled to survive the holocaust unleashed by Nazi Germany. They were given their own paths to progress, facilitated by a change in their immigration status, legitimized by a humanitarian public policy.

This public policy should also extend to those who fled their countries at the height of the civil war in El Salvador and had some resettling in parts of Honduras and Mexico.

Like the European immigrants, they too need their own paths to progress.  Why? The USA propped some of the dictators in these countries, causing some of their citizens to leave, not unlike the exodus of Filipinos to go overseas during the Marcos dictatorship.

By allowing them a legitimate way of working in the harvest fields, backbreaking work that most Americans do not care to do, then, these immigrants can contribute to increasing the tax base of the nation.

An immigration panel organized by Coro Leadership estimated the US economy can grow by a trillion if immigration reform is enacted for the 11 million undocumented.

In Silicon Valley, most of the startups in technology were done by immigrants. Slate cited that Andy Grove, Intel’s former chairman, and CEO, was born in Hungary in 1936 and immigrated to the United States in his 20s. Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to San Jose, CA, with his family as a child. Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google, came to the United States from his native Russia when he was 6.

They aren’t special cases: About one-quarter of American tech companies are founded in part or entirely by foreigners. The proportion in Silicon Valley is even higher—a recent survey by Vivek Wadhwa, an engineering professor at Duke University, showed that more than 52 percent of Valley startups were founded or co-founded by people born outside of the United States. According to Wadhwa’s research, immigrant-founded firms produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers in 2005.

Since the 45th US President issued executive travel bans, Silicon Valley firms have had a harder time to get to a fresh supply of immigrants in the information technology field. A lot of firms, reported by NHK World in May 2017 reported their sights are northward in relocating their firms. Where to? Vancouver, as it elevates itself to now have 100,000 IT (information technology) workers through its immigration policies and its favorable policies towards new businesses.

The same goes for cultural workers in America, the singing groups cannot simply say we will go to America as travel restrictions are creating delays and complexities in immigration. The latest Asian Choral Festival went wanting for a Taiwan – based choral group given the travel complexities. It is much easier for Americans to go to other countries than other countries’ immigrants to come to the United States.

We are faced with a choice of reactions.  When we step back and consider that our grandparents, parents and those who came before us were immigrants at one time who sought refuge in this country, fleeing from injustices from their ancestral countries, we identify with the pain of undocumented families.

When we contemplate and reflect, we sense our hearts breaking open to allow these folks to come in.  But when we suppress our gut reactions towards them, we spew out hatred and biased statements and in fear, like Senator McCain did in blaming an Arizona wildfire to immigrants.

“There is substantial evidence that some of these fires are caused by people who have crossed our border illegally,” McCain, said at a press conference Saturday after touring the Wallow fire, which began on May 29, 2011 and has burned over 500,000 acres to date.  He provided no proof of his opinions,” Huffington Post reported.

Even so, I still feel hopeful since a caring group of young women lawyers has banded together to provide much-needed lawyers’ services to facilitate the coming of the refugees from the Middle East that were unreasonably blocked by 45th U.S. President’s executive travel ban orders and then, later overturned by federal judges.

Anna Silman cites, “There was also a couple that was finally released after 22 hours — they had been held without food and water. They were the elderly parents of a lawful permanent resident who lived in L.A., and they had a history of heart surgery so their daughter was very worried. These are not normal times … It was Kafkaesque at best. This was not the country that any of us were used to operating in.” —Judy London, directing attorney of public counsel, Immigrant Rights Project, Los Angeles

Writers and lawyers are the guardians of democracy. When a country has good writers and caring lawyers, public policies are reasonable, humane and uplifting, and so is our democracy.

But a writer needs a pure heart or they write the politics of the broken-hearted, recycling fears and negativities, and they stand to threaten the foundations of the democracy we all cherish in America.

It quickly disintegrates to a hateful nation full of imaginary illusions that the end is near, because the immigrants are coming.

It is time to stop the fears and renew America on what it truly stands for: A nation indivisible, a true light upon the nations!

We can choose to be the dark clouds in the sky or the bright lit clouds in the sky that lights the way! We can be the enlightened Americans we were once known to be!

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 9 years now. She contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Mexico and 22 national parks in the US, in pursuit of her love for arts.

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