Have you ever found yourself in a completely new and slightly scary situation?
Maybe you started a new job and had to learn your work from scratch (in addition to getting to know your new co-workers and how to find everything in a new building).
Maybe you were forced to give a speech or presentation in front of a lot of people on the fly.
Perhaps you moved to a new city without a friend in sight and no idea of where to find a good grocery store or better gas prices.
Maybe you’ve been in a hospital about to undergo an operation. The prospect of strangers cutting you up and doing whatever they want to your body while you are unconscious is unsettling.
Maybe you walked onto a car dealership feeling like you knew what you wanted and left feeling like someone just took advantage of you.
What do all of these scenarios have in common?
For starters, they all involve being in a foreign environment. Secondly, they also involve some degree of fear, feeling out -of-sorts, and being vulnerable.
Now, imagine moving to a foreign country. People speak a completely different language. There are ways of showing respect and gratitude that are confusing. Their food tastes weird to your tongue. You have no idea how to get anywhere, and the public transit is mind-boggling. You miss your family and friends terribly. You miss the comforts of the food and places you were used to. You feel alone and afraid.
Being an immigrant involves being in a foreign environment. It is an experience that can be rife with fear, feeling out-of-sorts, and a sense of uncontrollable vulnerability.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Right now in America, the immigration debate has finally reached the forefront of our national attention. Immigrant families and children are being used as bargaining chips by our own president. Initiatives geared toward cracking down on illegal immigration are racist and inhumane.
Where is the compassion?
How do we find actionable solutions that treat all people with respect and dignity?
Surely we can do better than separating children from their parents and incarcerating all of them?
I will not pretend that I have all of the answers, but perhaps one place to start is to know that immigrants are essentially no different from anyone else. They have dreams. They want to build a good life for themselves and their children. They are intelligent. They know how to love. They feel sadness and fear. They have the capacity to work hard and help others.
If they are no different, then they are the same.
The next time you feel vulnerable, lonely, or afraid, remember that there is an immigrant in the world who is also feeling those things.
The only difference is that their situation might be far more terrifying, sad, and hopeless.
Helping immigrants helps all of us.
Compassion for immigrants is compassion for ourselves.
There is an immigrant in all of us.