On Immigration: This Is Who We Are Until We're Not This

It just gets worse every time you take another look.

A migrant to the United States can be rejected for asylum for myriad reasons. One of those is if it turns out that the migrant has provided "material support" for a terrorist organization. And this makes sense, obviously. If you have given money to or fought for a terrorist group, that should definitely draw much closer scrutiny. Of course, that's been used in absurd and disgusting ways.

For instance, take the case of a Salvadoran woman who had been in the United States since 1991. After being here under Temporary Protected Status, she applied for full asylum in 2004, which was denied, but that decision was stayed. Without getting into all the legal back and forth, this week, the Department of Justice's Board of Immigration Appeals ordered her removed from the country because of her material support of terrorists: she was a prisoner and slave of a guerrilla group. The decision says that "her undisputed testimony [is] that she was kidnapped by guerrillas in El Salvador in 1990 and was coerced into undergoing weapons training and performing forced labor in the form of cooking, cleaning, and washing their clothes."

But it gets worse because it always gets worse. She had tried to get her removal reversed based on the U.N. Convention Against Torture. See, "in addition to being kidnapped and required to perform cooking and cleaning for the guerrillas under threat of death, the respondent was forced to witness her husband, a sergeant in the Salvadoran Army, dig his own grave before being killed."

And while, yes, this occurred during the mad reign of Trump, her case had been going on from Bush, Jr. to Obama to now, and at no point did the government drop its attempt to deport her. As the board wrote in its decision, "no court has held that the kind of support an alien provides, if related to promoting the goals of a terrorist organization, is exempt from the material support bar, and we discern no basis to import such a limitation." Not even being a slave.

Of course, it does get worse because it always gets worse. See, immigration courts and boards can provide victims of terrorists waivers in order to get asylum, but the Salvadoran woman's case did not, according to two out of three members of the board, rise to the level of "duress" necessary for the waiver. One case that did was that of a Sri Lankan man who was kidnapped by a terrorist group in 2004 and forced to pay a ransom. He asked for asylum here and was first denied because, yes, you guessed it, his ransom was material support. He was finally granted a waiver in 2011 and got a green card.

You like that happy ending? Well, it gets worse because it always gets worse, and now we come back around to the unique barbarity of the Trump administration. It wants to end the waiver program because it idiotically fears that letting fully vetted victims of terrorism into the country could lead to terrorism. These exemptions allow people like, say, translators who helped American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan enter the United States. In 10 years, just 22,000 people have received them. It is, as one Obama administration official put it, "a non-existent phantom problem." The entire cruel reason to end the program is to please the hardliners in the GOP and the xenophobic yahoos that make up Trump's base.

Add that to the pile of noxious policies that the Trump administration is pursuing, from the heartbreaking separation of children from their migrant parents, now possibly up to 2000 kids, to the concentration camp-like detention centers for migrants, to the ICE raids on businesses to round up suspected undocumented workers and rip families apart.

Politicians and pundits and others keep saying things like "This is not who we are." Except it is who we are. In this time. In this administration. It is who we are until we decide we're not this. But it is where we've been heading since 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as ICE. We are the people who have government officials tell parents that their kids are just going to bathe as they take the children away. We are the people who drive some of those parents, who have endured several kinds of hell to get here, to despair and suicide. We are the people who treat those huddled masses yearning to be free with contempt and cruelty. We are the people who will tell someone who was enslaved that she must go back to the land of her captors, even if she's lived here for nearly three decades.

We are this. And we will continue to be this unless those of us who don't believe this is who we should be can change it. If we don't, then we truly know who we've always been. It will get worse because it always gets worse until we have the will to make it better.