¡Calmate!

The action in the streets is “exciting” and people are revved up to respond. It’s like our interior soundtrack is on a repeat of:

I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately
Smashin’ every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation!

But with all due respect to Lin-Manuel Miranda, and anyone who knows me has no doubt how much respect I think is due to him, we’re not all Hamilton and we need to think a little harder about what we’re smashing. Because right now, we are–with the best of intentions–smashing people’s nerves.

People’s nerves are jangled. Mine, probably yours (but definitely not the dogs’). IMG_2302See photo for evidence. But no one’s nerves are are on higher alert than undocumented immigrants in our communities. The people I speak to, from undocumented clients to advocates who look after their mental health, housing, medical, and other needs, report almost debilitating levels of anxiety as they face and plan for the prospect of families being torn apart with no notice. Figuring out who should take care of children, who has the right to sell their car, how someone can access their bank account if they get detained…these are all practical and urgent concerns. Practical, urgent, and time-consuming concerns.

What already anxious people do not need is more panic. But we have a cottage industry of panic-creators. Every rumored immigration raid raises anxiety even farther. But the rumors? Seldom true. Just in the DC area this week, we had rumors of raids in Langley Park (no, just a routine criminal investigation) and at Children’s Hospital (completely untrue). But the damage gets done anyway. Passing along rumors helps nobody.

There are real problems happening, from the woman picked up after her domestic violence protection order hearing in Texas, to the DACA recipient in Seattle. So what should be doing about these things?

  • First, let me explain that by “we,” I mean the people who do not live in fear of raids, who can call law enforcement officials without fear of the possible repercussions.
  • We must be aware of the abuses in immigration enforcement, figure out what is happening locally, and counsel community members accordingly.
  • For this to work, we need people to have good relationships with police departments and with ICE itself, so that when a rumor starts we can verify its accuracy, or when an injustice happens, we can advocate for different policies locally.
  • For those working directly with community members as lawyers, social workers, or case managers, that means that if we no longer believe that our clients will be safe from enforcement actions at court, at work, at regularly scheduled immigration check-ins, then we need to have a plan in place for when (or if) they go to these places. That might be helping them with their safety planning, encouraging them to bring a trusted friend who can set that plan into motion if needed, or accompanying them ourselves.

And now for a truth-bomb: This is also an important moment for personal and organizational self-reflection. So many of us, myself all too much included, benefit from the panic. That’s an ugly truth. Panic attracts media and publicity, attracts new clients, attracts funders, and makes us look like heroes. An organization can make a huge name for itself by responding to panic that, unintentionally, the same organization may be fomenting. (I have worked in, with, and alongside many such organizations. As some people’s president might say, “nobody loves immigrant advocacy organizations more than me!”) Even a humble law professor can get interviewed on the news to the admiration of friends and, maybe, her tenure committee.  Is that why we do it? Of course not. But it should make us uncomfortable to gain fame, glory, admiration, and donor money by amplifying the message of panic. And those same opportunities can and should be used, over and over and over, to urge people to remain calm, to take every precaution, absolutely, but to wait until information is verified before indulging in the panic.

Far less attractive to media and funders is the long-game, the behind-the-scenes relationship building with government officials, the endless meetings with colleagues and coalition partners who have different points and levels of access within Homeland Security, from the line officer at Homeland Security Investigations who might be able to verify what, if anything, is happening in a neighborhood enforcement-wise, to the director of policy within ICE who can send a clear message about whether the sensitive locations memo is still departmental policy. I can tell you, this work is not flashy and you don’t get fun stories from it. Usually. (And I’m not talking about that one.) But it is so important, and we must keep doing it.

So let’s keep doing all the good work. And in the meantime, our message to affected communities should be this: “These are scary times. Let’s help you feel prepared in case the worst happens. Let’s show you that we care about how all this is affecting you. And let’s keep working to make sure the worst never happens.”

Also, like I teach my students, let’s all tend to the roots that keep us resilient…whether that’s our faith communities, the friend we call every week to laugh with, the soccer team that was robbed of the title last year (but will win for sure this year), the music that reminds us of a happy time, or anything else. We can’t live on high-alert without it affecting us psychologically and physically. So let’s remember, all of us, to breathe and tend to those roots.

 

The Fight Gets Harder

 

When the travel ban went into place two weeks ago, we had an immediate call to action with incredible clarity. We knew where to go (our nearest international airport), we knew what to do (make more protest signs, advocate for those stuck with Customs and Border Protection to get people released, and litigate like mad in federal courts). And it worked.

Yesterday’s news about widespread immigration raids is so different. There is no one place to go to show our strength in numbers, because these raids are in scattered communities and workplaces. And the legal defense is going to vary from individual client to individual client. (There may also be some impact litigation to be done, as always, but those picked up in raids need their own lawyers who can understand the government’s case against them and any opportunities for relief from removal.)

Already, the local immigration court where I practice has begun shifting cases around to accommodate new enforcement priorities. It’s great for me personally, since my case for next week is postponed and I have some hours to plan more fighting ( and clean the house, and pet the dog who was beginning to wonder if I remembered her existence).

But more lives are going to be disrupted, and even for people who don’t get picked up, their newly increased fear and anxiety, on top of high pre-existing stress levels, makes a lot of the general post-election anxiety look like a xanax fest. Really consider that for a moment. I know how many friends have, since the election, been experiencing unusual levels of stress, anxiety, fear, inability to concentrate or sleep. I certainly have myself. And all of those things are in a different universe from the fear a parent has dropping her child off at school, wondering if she will be picked up by ICE before the school day is done. Every. Single. Day.

What can we do? Think long-term. These issues are going to be here for a long time…they have already been with us for as long as I have been a lawyer. When my daughter was born, I was so sure I was going to miss out on immigration reform while I was at the hospital (I did go into labor at one of the early rallies for immigration reform, so this was not just the drugs talking). My daughter is now ten. TEN. Think what you could learn to do in ten years,  consider what skill you most want to develop, and go develop it. Think about seriously improving your Spanish so you can interpret for people or help with community presentations. Put your school’s PTA to use supporting noncitizen families, and ask the ESOL teacher or a trusted counselor at the school for ideas on what would be useful support.

Short-term, this is going to be tough. In some ways, short-term the burden is going to be on the lawyers who are already trained-up and ready to do these cases. But there are other ways to help

  • The creative ones out there can help those lawyers design really visually appealing materials to get solid information out to people. Or help us improve our websites [clears throat].
  • The foreign language-speakers (especially Spanish) can help at community presentations where we talk with frightened families about safety planning.
  • Those with some extra money can donate to local legal service providers who do removal defense, especially detained removal defense. In the DC area, that means supporting Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.
  • And everyone can bring on the extra smiles, polite conversation, holding doors open for people, heck, even allowing someone to cut you off on the highway. Remember that your anxiety level, high as it is, may be nowhere near as high as a stranger you pass on the way to school, on the road to work, and so on. Kindness matters profoundly. Be a source of kindness.

 

Message to New Activists

Things needed change before, and many activists have been in these fights for a long time. After the election, I had conversations with many activists in different fields, and they all said the same thing vis-a-vis the new energy and attention to social injustices in the U.S. It is striking, across many different areas of activism, the same conversations. So I want to try to articulate what I have heard on their behalves. (My thoughts are in parens.)
  1. They are exhausted. It’s been hard enough fighting for justice under President Obama. (True. See: locking up Central American babies.)
  2. They feel a bit ungrateful, but the new surge of energy means so many people asking more of their time.
  3. They worry that once someone finds out social justice work involves a delusional amount of banging your head on brick walls, interrupted by banging your head on brick walls with sharp things protruding from the walls, the person will tire of justice work. (Don’t get tired: realize you earn a bad-ass badge with every wall you hit.)
  4. They worry that a lawyer taking on pro bono cases will discover not all their clients are immediately grateful or return calls, and tire of pro bono work. (Don’t get tired. Sometimes your biggest pain in the ass clients surprise you and teach you things you weren’t expecting. Of course, sometimes they don’t, and then you just get to complain. I am here for you when this happens.)
  5. They hope people will realize no single person can do everything. So many interlocking systems grind the most vulnerable down, and if you fight them all, you’re not good at fighting any one of them. They hope people don’t get disillusioned by the thought of that. (My cure for this: Mary Oliver’s “Song of the Builders.”)
  6. They hope people pick one issue they care so much about, and then get educated about it. About the issue, but also about the fight. Who has been writing on this, who has been organizing, who has a good network already in place.
  7. Once that happens, they hope folks find a way to be of service to those good efforts instead of creating new ones. And remember that service can absolutely include donating and then reading the action alerts that worthy organization sends along to you. (Note to self: stop deleting action alerts when I get them.) The ways you serve people can be local and small, and can be things you love to do from writing to art to…anything.

There is so much need, and now so much energy, and if we can just get focus ourselves, be kind to ourselves, be humble and patient, we’re going to BRING IT in 2017 and beyond.

 

Things I Know About Politics that I Learned from Musicals

Someone who was weaned on Annie is going to be an unreliable guide to politics. Even more unreliable is someone whose favorite moment in Annie is when Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and FDR sing “Tomorrow” in harmony, with FDR demanding billionaire Oliver Warbucks join the harmony (“Republicans, too, Oliver!”). This is, clearly, a major reason for my delusional optimism.  (I’m not the only one. Check this out.)

But there’s enough negativity in the world. I’m going to sing out, Louise embrace my flaws. Here’s what musicals taught me.

  • When Elphaba defies gravity after accusing Galinda of groveling in submission to feed her own ambition, don’t we see Elphaba  as the hero? But who made her ultimate redemption possible? Her friend on the inside, powerful ally Glinda. Our inside actors don’t get the heroic roles, but wow are they necessary.
  • Some adversaries really, really aren’t worth the effort to try to persuade. See: Book of Mormon.
  • Bad politics rot our society from the inside. And thanks, Cabaret, for making me fall in love with a song that I discovered much later was sung by the Nazis in the movie.
  • Les Miserables: everyone dies, so I might as well drink. Ok, not everyone dies, but when all we are left with is Marius and Cosette, really, I might as well drink. Even Marius realizes this in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Cosette, btw, was clearly a human trafficking survivor.
    • When Les Mis doesn’t depress me, it also provides about the strongest possible example of why not all prosecutions are just. And in a country obsessed with punishing the marginalized, and deporting people for little more than stealing a loaf of bread, it’s good to remember that nobody who watches that show wants to be Javert. We may understand him, and show him respect. But we all want to be Valjean.
      • Or Eponine. Because (a) the cap and (b) the best songs.
  • The car-dismantling nuns of The Sound of Music certainly taught me about how what’s right or wrong depends mightily on context.

In all seriousness, who better than Coalhouse Walker, Junior for these times, reminding us that law is not justice, and that our sword “may be a sermon, or the power of the pen…make them hear you. Make them hear you.” You don’t believe me? Listen to this.

 

Tend to Your Roots

My students have to work with traumatized clients, and I have seen it take a physical and mental toll on them, so we now spend time talking about resilience. Since we need to not just stay strong, but somehow get stronger, I thought I’d share one of the resilience concepts that has helped me and a bunch of my students, which is to think about how the roots of a tree keep it strong and steady, even in the face of heavy winds. When the roots are weak or shallow, the tree topples. So identify what your roots are–what keeps you strong–and nourish them. For me, it’s family, my neighborhood, close friends, the Sligo Creek trail, and music. Ok, and Phoebe. When I don’t pay attention to those things, I don’t do as well. I hope you all will pay attention to your own roots, and keep them strong.

A small something to do

Something concrete you can do now: Go find one of your badass friends who has been fighting hard in the environmental, racial justice, education, criminal justice, immigration, or other hard long fight for years–including throughout the “friendly” but still extremely challenging Obama Administration–and do something nice for them. Flowers. A handwritten note. A baked good. A word of appreciation. I’ve had enough conversations in real life with people who’ve been giving and giving of themselves over the years, who have a multitude of good and bad/complicated feelings about the waves of new energy. Social justice work is rewarding, but not in any immediate way, and it can be exhausting and frustrating and time-consuming. Now’s a nice time to be nice to the people whose work you’ve always admired.

The Power of the Protest

Written January 22:

You know what I hope? I hope that yesterday’s marches, whether you were there in person or in spirit, keep us brave and strong for all the fights ahead. There are times you can feel SO alone, or at least very marginalized, when you’re fighting for what’s right. But what yesterday showed, over and over and over, is we are not alone in this. Some are louder than others, some are more visible than others, but we are all there. And maybe the quieter, less visible ones among us get a little louder, a little more out there…and the loud ones among us learn to share our space and bring people in. Based on what we all saw yesterday–yes, we can.

What Goes Around, Comes Around (Executive Order edition)

The advocate in me who deplores the recent refugee and Muslim travel bans is ecstatic about the Washington State federal judge’s order enjoining the orders nationally. But there is irony in it, too…the authority for extending the injunction nationally comes from the same logic that stayed President Obama’s effort to provide immigration relief for many undocumented parents of citizens and green card holders in 2014. One Texas district court judge was able to stop an estimated 5 million people from experiencing immigration relief under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program.

 

Getting Involved

So, some of you have delusions that I’m a tireless saver-of-the-world. This is greatly exaggerated. I am an eater of chocolate, reader of novels, and drinker of wine who has a great day job that is useful. But I do know some folks I’d put in that category (not gonna tag them but I hope they know who they are). And every single one lately is saying the same thing vis-a-vis the new energy and attention to social injustices in the U.S. It is striking, across many different areas of activism, the same conversations. So I want to try to articulate what I have heard on their behalves. (My thoughts are in parens.)

1. They are exhausted. It’s been hard enough fighting for justice under President Obama. (True. See: locking up Central American babies.)

2. They feel a bit ungrateful, but the new surge of energy means so many people asking more of their time.

3. They worry that once someone finds out social justice work involves a delusional amount of banging your head on brick walls, interrupted by banging your head on brick walls with sharp things protruding from the walls, the person will tire of justice work. (Don’t get tired: realize you earn a bad-ass badge with every wall you hit.)

4. They worry that a lawyer taking on pro bono cases will discover not all their clients are immediately grateful or return calls, and tire of pro bono work. (Don’t get tired. Sometimes your biggest pain in the ass clients surprise you and teach you things you weren’t expecting. Of course, sometimes they don’t, and then you just get to complain. I am here for you when this happens.)

5. They hope people will realize no single person can do everything. So many interlocking systems grind the most vulnerable down, and if you fight them all, you’re not good at fighting any one of them. They hope people don’t get disillusioned by the thought of that. (My cure for this: Mary Oliver’s “Song of the Builders”)

6. They hope people pick one issue they care so much about, and then get educated about it. About the issue, but also about the fight. Who has been writing on this, who has been organizing, who has a good network already in place.

7. Once that happens, they hope folks find a way to be of service to those good efforts instead of creating new ones. And remember that service can absolutely include donating and then reading the action alerts that worthy organization sends along to you. (Note to self: stop deleting action alerts when I get them.) ETA the ways you serve people can be local and small, and can be things you love to do from writing to art to…anything. (Thanks, Judy Blackburn and Michelle Yu…and fb isn’t letting me tag you, but thanks!)

There is so much need, and now so much energy, and if we can just get focus ourselves, be kind to ourselves, be humble and patient, we’re going to BRING IT in 2017 and beyond.

All We Don’t Need (another brick in the wall)

Please don’t get distracted by the wall. It’s going to be an attractive symbol for the immigration fight on both sides, but the FAR more important fight is over (largely unseen) civil rights violations within the country, the massive expansion of private detention facilities (look at CCA’s stock), and the fast-tracking of removal for an incredibly broad swath of migrants who won’t get a chance to go before a judge. Those fights are less visible and matter so much more. You can’t go wrong with supporting anything from ACLU nationally or a local immigration legal services provider (whose funding is likely to get slashed when Trump eliminates the Legal Services Corporation). 

New York Times gets it right.