06 September 2017

Papers, please

My first passport.
U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions: "To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here. It’s just that simple."

It's just that simple. Is it really?

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, whose end was announced on Tuesday, does not involve "everyone who would like to come here." It involves a specific category of people who actually did not choose to come to the USA, but were brought there. What case could possibly be made that letting the DACA "dreamers" stay would bring more harm to the USA than the harm this terrible decision does to those dreamers? It's quite the reverse: ending the program and threatening these people with uncertainty and possible deportation does harm to the whole country, dreamers included. Their fate seems at least as important as that of a renegade Arizona ex-sheriff.

I'm writing these words on my way from the USA to Russia. The very first time I crossed the Atlantic Ocean, I was on my way to the USA as a brand new immigrant, entering as no. 385 of the USA's quota for Norwegians for that year. I was joining my parents, who were already in the USA as students.

Both of my parents entered the USA as exchange students from their universities. My father was coming from the University of Oslo, my mother from Heidelberg. I can't ask them now whether they came with the full intention of staying in the USA beyond their student years. I can't say whether they took jobs from Americans whose family immigration histories were earlier than theirs. Nor can I define precisely the advantages they and I got from race, education, and class. One thing I can say for sure: they didn't consult with me.



Last spring, during the tea after our Moscow Friends meeting for worship, an attender told of her panic a day or two before, when she could not find her documents. Her passports (internal and external) and bank cards had vanished. She had found them again by the time we met, but she said she would never forget the zone of non-existence she entered during their absence. She felt that she had lost the right to exist.

It reminded me of an incident that happened earlier in our Russian life. We were in the USA at that moment, but we had to send several hundred dollars to a recipient in Russia. This sort of transaction was not as convenient then as it is now. After weighing the options, we decided to use Western Union for the transfer. After a few days, we got this message from our friend:
Good evening! With pride I can inform you that today I associated myself with the achievements of global civilization -- for the first time, I received money through Western Union. It turned out to be very simple and relatively quick. True, as with everything here in Russia, it was done in the unique Russian way: there were a few additional forms to fill out and a waiting period in line while the computer "processed" something. This was all in strict conformity to our principle: "Without papers, you're just a little bug, but with papers you're a human being."
That is, with the right kind of papers.



What are these papers for, anyway? -- passports, visas, and the like. They keep people separated, grouped, in their place. Politicians justify them by scaring us about the consequences of people mixing too freely -- "they" might take "our" jobs, food, land; they might give us new ideas, new hopes. (Sad example: Evangelists in Russia now need to be authorized.) Once we adopt the discipline of seeing ("regarding") all people from a Godly point of view, we demote "papers" to their rightful place -- bureaucratic conveniences that must never outweigh the plain demands of fairness.

Yes, the nation and the world are served when the rule of law prevails. The nation and the world are not served when politicians exalt theory over naked reality. When politicians betray plain justice on behalf of a political agenda, it's our job as citizens to demand accountability. The church, organized around a Kingdom whose boundaries are always illuminated by the spotlight of mercy and are never more than one step away from anyone, should be leading the way.



Friends Committee on National Legislation makes recommendations to defend DACA dreamers.

Russian Foreign Ministry researches the possibility of suing the USA.

Samuel Wells: Love and Liverpool.

Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs Moscow in 1954.

Quiz: What kind of Kremlinologist are you?



From the Roadhouse in Moscow: Albert Albertine...



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