¡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.