We Need to Talk
By Trudy Wischemann
The phrase “We need to talk” can sound menacing when it comes from a boss or a mate, implying the need for some change the hearer may not want. And it might sound menacing to you when I say it regarding immigration issues. These issues are so longstanding here in the Valley that we think our lives depend on them. They’re part of the status quo, and that’s what I think we need to talk about.
Monday morning’s Fresno Bee carried yet another front-page story about the trials of people facing deportation who were brought here as children through no fault of their own. I’m going to call them “importees” from now on, for the sense of involuntariness is what moves us to care, and it should.
This man, Vanna In, considered Cambodian but born in Vietnam in the mid-1970s when our war on that country was just ending, leaving rice paddies, roads, villages and towns in ruins, has become a minister to gang members, having been one himself. He’s not just a productive member of society, he’s a healer of one of this society’s wounds. But his early childhood education, so to speak, leaves him extremely vulnerable in this tragic political moment, when Congress is too hamstrung to act. He faces deportation to Cambodia, where he has never lived.
The article, written by Carmen George, who has been bringing us compelling pieces of beauty from our region for several years now, tells how we might help this singular man. Rev. Vanna In has petitioned Gov. Jerry Brown for a pardon, which could lead to citizenship if granted. A petition in support of that request is available at www.change.org, and has gathered over 7,000 signatures already.
We need to do more, however, than help people one at a time. President Trump’s machete-like action cutting off the DACA program, which provided a measure of stability to some of these importees, was a rash challenge to Congress, a wielding of the power of the pen to provoke legislative action toward resolving our unresolved immigration issues. But Congress cannot resolve them while we, the people, are so unresolved ourselves.
There are people in this country, powerful people, who benefit economically from the availability of undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants. Their political influence will make it difficult to find a national legislative solution. Meanwhile, the economic costs are borne by the immigrants themselves and by the communities in which they live. Rev. Vanna In’s story, luckily, shows us the benefits we also receive at the community level.
Perhaps this story and others will help us start the conversations we need to be having at the local level about immigration: about who qualifies as “American” and how we gain that status, the pathways to citizenship. About what we do, as neighbors and friends, when ICE comes to the door of the house down the street, supposedly to “fix” the problem of illegal immigration, but ripping apart families, churches, neighborhoods, and communities instead.
We need to talk, and we need to talk now, before ICE comes. Let’s find a way to do it.
Trudy Wischemann is the granddaughter of immigrants before there were laws to prevent them from entering. You can send her your immigrant origins c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.