#938: Supporting Immigrant Coworkers in the USA.

Hi,

I have a coworker from Iran. The President is about to announce awful policies around admitting people from countries including Iran. I’m pretty sure he and his siblings are all here on non-permament statuses, though I don’t know for sure. He’s a friendly acquaintance, not someone I’d say I have a close relationship with, but it’s a small workplace and we’ve talked a fair bit.

Is there a good way to be supportive and express solidarity? I don’t want to put him on the spot, as questions that make him uncomfortable, etc. But I do want to do anything I can to make him feel better or make things actually better for him, be that being an emotional support in these stressful times, just letting him know that people around him care, or something else. For context, we live in a very liberal major city in a liberal industry, in a company where people openly talk about their distress over the current political situation, so he probably assumes people are generally on his side.

Thank you.

Hello everyone, it’s the week that the U.S. government decided to use Holocaust Memorial Day to drop a bunch of evil, racist, discriminatory, xenophobic (not to mention illegal) rules designed to cause as much terror and chaos as possible for vulnerable people. Fun fact: The Executive Order in question (full text here, but also potentially hearing That Voice talking in autoplay video, so, be warned) also affects legal permanent residents (green card holders) and dual citizens of other countries (for example, if you are a French citizen who was born in one of the targeted countries, you could also be turned back from boarding a plane or detained at airports) and is designed to create maximum tension & upheaval for people who are already “vetted” and in the country legally. It is already causing chaos and despair for people I personally know and love, and even though initial legal challenges are working and there have been some temporary stays, it is just the beginning of what the new administration has planned with its Nazilicious “America First!” policies where people can be made “illegal” with the stroke of a pen. If you’re in the USA and you’re reading this and think this was a great idea or want to tell me how it isn’t that bad or we should give it a chaaaaaaaaance, please kindly fuck off forever from this website. First rule of surviving an autocracy: Believe the autocrat. It is that bad.

Related reading: 1. Mrs. Kirkorian, Sharon Olds, 2. Home, Warsan Shire.

Hello, Letter Writer, thanks for writing your sadly- timely-as-fuck letter and wanting to do right by your coworker.

The literal best thing you can do right now is to help stop the policies (Source: The Nation).

A. Educate *yourself* about the issue. Don’t make already-vulnerable people explain things to you and for fuck’s sake if they do explain things, don’t debate them about it or try to correct them about it and don’t offer empty reassurances that it can’t be that bad. A lot of smart people are writing about this stuff right now, you can hold your questions until you can be alone with Google and those critical thinking skills you were hopefully taught in school. You don’t have to become the world’s foremost expert or be debate-team perfect overnight. If your coworker wants to talk about stuff, listen without interrupting.

B. Bug every single elected official that you have, every day. Here are tips for doing so if you have anxiety. Short version: Calling works best. If you’re going to send postal mail, use postcards. Call YOUR representatives. Say your name and address and keep it short. Be nice to the person answering the phones, they have a hard job. Script: “Hi my name is ___ and my address is _____. I don’t need a response.* I do not support ____ and am asking Senator ____ to vigorously oppose it” or “I want to thank Senator ____ for their action/vote/position/statement on _____ issue.” Pick one issue per call (this is the hardest part, honestly).

I hated doing this at first but now it takes me about 15 minutes a day, all told.

*Saying “I don’t need a response” makes it faster for the staffers to deal with you b/c they don’t have to add you to the list of people who need a physical letter.

C. Support organizations doing the work. The ACLU is a worthy organization working hard on this, but they aren’t the only ones. From The Nation:

4. ACT LOCAL: JOIN GRASSROOTS EFFORTS AND INITIATIVES

Many of the efforts protecting immigrants will be on the local level, so find the groups in your community doing the work. As with most small nonprofits, donations are always welcome, but if that’s not within reach, take time to learn about the organization, its active campaigns, and volunteer your time. Below are a few examples to get you started.

Arab American Association of NY (AAANY): AAANY supports and empowers the Arab Immigrant and Arab American community by providing services to help immigrants adjust to new homes and become active members of society. Their aim is for families to achieve the ultimate goals of independence, productivity and stability.

National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON): NDLON works to improve the lives of day laborers in the US. With member organizations across the country, NDLON works to unify and strengthen its base in efforts to develop strategic and effective leadership, mobilization and organizing campaigns.

CAIR: The Council on American Islamic Relations has fought for the civil rights of American Muslims. There are 30 nationwide affiliates, defending, representing, and educating over 1 million Muslims in the New York area.

Families for Freedom (FFF): FFF is a multiethnic human-rights organization in NYC run by and for individuals and families facing and fighting deportation. FFF organizers are immigrant prisoners, former prisoners, their families, or those at risk of deportation. Their aim is to empower immigrant communities as communities of color, and to be a guiding voice in the fight for human rights.

Grassroots leadership: Located in Austin, Texas, Grassroots Leadership believes “no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings” and they “work for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past.” They are currently organizing Sanctuary in the Streets Training to build sanctuary networks through direct action and organizing throughout Texas.

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS): HIAS brings the lessons of its history and Jewish ethics and experience to our commitment to serve refugees and other displaced persons of concern around the world through the following values: Welcoming, Dignity and Respect, Empowerment, Excellence and Innovation, Collaboration and Teamwork, and Accountability. If you’re not in New York, HIAS also works with a variety of refugee resettlement organizations across the country.

Make the Road New York (MRNY): MRNY builds the power of Latino and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, and transformative education. Its campaigns include expanding civil rights, promoting health, improving housing, achieving workplace justice, improving public education, and empowering youth. It has recently launched a group called Aliados for allies of immigrants to join the fight. You can sign up for their next meeting here.

Many of these are NYC-central; you very probably almost definitely have a group somewhere local to you. The awesome airport protests yesterday didn’t happen “out of nowhere.” It’s great that social media reached so many people and got them to show up, but many brave people were organizing for this eventuality already. Connect.

D. If you can protest/march/rally/show up where you are, then do it. If you can’t, and not everyone can, do what you can to support those who can. For one example, I like the Chicago Community Bond Fund, which helps pay bond for people who can’t afford it, including but not limited to protestors and civil rights activists. Make signs. Make calls. Provide child care for people who go.

Use your voice and your power as a citizen to fight this. This is not so much “resistance” as the work of civic engagement we should all have been doing all along.

E. Beware of dogwhistles. I listened to the UK Prime Minister – US President press conference on Friday (why I did this to myself I don’t know but I did) and the number of times they used the term “ordinary working people” or “ordinary working citizens” in their comments was telling. Whatever else those words mean when they are at home, when politicians use them together it is a code that specifically means”white people who hate foreigners and who are probably racist, like me.” Every time you hear Real Americans or Ordinary Working People or The White Working Class from a politician, you are hearing a racist dogwhistle. Every time. I don’t care who is saying it – If your preferred-lefty-sort-of-candidate or politician is saying it, it’s still a racist dogwhistle used when trying desperately to chase after those voters.I say this because another racist dogwhistle is about “peaceful protesters” versus the other kind. We’re seeing bills to criminalize protest pop up all over the place. The Women’s Marches last weekend were “peaceful” because the police did not meet large groups of white women with the same violence and attempts to provoke violence that they routinely visit on black protestors. If you want people to continue to be able to demonstrate in defense of their human rights in our country, white people gotta show up and keep showing up for black activists, immigrants, Native American/First Peoples, and others.

Learn to hear these dogwhistles for what they are and call them out. We’re going to hear them a lot in these coming years.

F. Bonus: If you’re in a position to do something on an institutional level, do it. Companies who depend on international workers, what can you do to sponsor visas/hire attorneys/throw emergency funds to people in crisis/pull some levers of power for your employees? If you’re not in management, that’s a good question for you and coworkers to ask management. “Hey, what is company doing to support our colleagues and help them defend their rights? And how can we help?” (P.S. Wealthy people who hire domestic workers, what are you doing to keep your staff safe right now?)

G. Actually talk to your coworker.

Okay. You did some reading. You’ve called your representatives and will keep calling them. You donated some $ and some time. You deleted or countered the dogwhistle comments from that one racist relative on your Facebook. Maybe you showed up at an airport or are gonna show up soon to witness and protest for detainees. Cool. Then it’s time to say to your coworker something like, “I can’t imagine how stressful and terrifying all of this is for you & your family. I don’t agree with it and I’m doing what I can to stop it. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I wanted to tell you that I’m really glad you’re here and that I get to work with you and know you.

Remember, “Comfort In, Dump Out.

Remember also that “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” is not actually a helpful thing to drop on someone in crisis. It feels helpful, but actual help needs to be more specific. More helpful would be “If you need to vent about it, I’m happy to listen.” 

If we all do the work diligently and for real maybe we can avoid the “If you need me to hide you in my attic for several years, I’m down” stage.

I’ve got some heavy deadlines and distractions going on, so I’m turning comments off for this post. Google. Call. Donate. Demonstrate. Question. Be kind.

 

 

 

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