we all once were refugees

Close the borders.

Build a wall.

Halt resettlement.

As a first generation American on my mom’s side of the family, the anti-immigration sentiment sweeping this country disturbs me. What claim do any of us have on the land of freedom and opportunity except family members of past generations managed to get (or push their way) through the queue?

I understand fear of the unknown. But in the present moment, fear is fueling hatred, which ultimately begets violence. As a nation, we continually exacerbate this cycle with our knee-jerk, isolationist reactions.

I get it. The threat of terrorism is ever present, scary and real. You don’t have to school me on the dangers. I was working in the U.S. Senate on September 11th. If not for the heroes of United Flight 93, the baby I gave birth to four days after the attack, his father and I would probably have our names etched into memorial stone in the vicinity of where the Capitol currently stands.

Bad people are going to cross our borders. But is everyone seeking refuge a terrorist? Let’s remember many Syrian refugees are fleeing the same terror we have waged this unwinnable war against. In my view, their plight is not so very different from my grandfather fleeing both Nazi detainment and Soviet incarceration. He spoke no English and even wore a mustache reminiscent of a certain dictator, but no one denied him entry in his time of need.

I acknowledge the potential for those who mean us harm to take advantage of an unstable situation to immigrate here. Or they could already be within our borders, perhaps legally.

Is the threat posed by a few compelling enough to deny refuge to the many?

And what if we close the borders, build walls, halt resettlement efforts? Are we any safer? Let’s think about that for a hot minute. America has cultivated a culture where a gunman armed to the teeth can slaughter a school full of children or a theater of moviegoers without changes to the laws permitting the carrying of a calibre of weapons that far exceeds the intent of a hallowed amendment. We are willing to take the risk of adhering to the second amendment because the majority of gun owners are responsible. But God forbid we open our arms to desperate people escaping tyrannical governments because of the radical actions of a few.

Fear fuels hatred begets violence. America, you can do better.





kids and guns and horror

IMG_2321Across America this morning, parents dropped their kids at school, the bus stop or with early morning caretakers and proceeded with their day just as they did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.

At our own school, we held a special program. As has become annual tradition, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer came to sit patiently and listen to our kids sing holiday songs. He does not represent our district, but our school bears his late wife’s name, and he never fails to make a December appearance. In fact, when his schedule would not permit him to attend the actual performance next week, he came today instead to watch dress rehearsal. He got on one knee with a gaggle of pre-kindergardeners to cut the ceremonial ribbon for our “new” (to us) school building. He laughed. He clapped. He addressed the kids, not the adults, and told them teachers are the most important people in a society. He was warm to one and all and appeared to be genuinely entertained.

I left school with warm happy feelings for my kids’ school, our community spirit and a driven PTA that makes being that organization’s president a pretty easy job. (As my friend Chuck whispered to me during the performance, “it’s amazing what a PTA can do when it’s run by a bunch of alphas.”)

I learned about the horrible news of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut not from NPR but Twitter. My first reaction was jaded. Another mass shooting. This is America. It seems to happen every other week. Then the details emerged. An elementary school. Scores of young kids shot and killed. The horror of it all quickly sunk in. As I came home to my own elementary-aged kids tonight, I thought of those parents who will never walk in the door to be greeted by hugs and kisses. I thought of the kids who are not tucked into their beds tonight. Most of them kindergardeners. And I felt helpless.

There’s so much that’s wrong that it’s hard to imagine getting our nation back on course. We need to better address mental health issues, for sure. But we also need stronger gun control. I believe in the Second Amendment. But to say it’s outdated seems like an understatement.

I’d like to think as a nation we could have an honest debate about guns. But you can already see the polarization occurring on that great social indicator, Facebook. When Jack asked tonight, “why doesn’t Congress just make a law that you can’t have the types of guns that are only designed to kill people, not to hunt?” I didn’t have an answer. Deep down, I don’t think our government takes this moment to debate gun policy anymore than they’ve signaled a willingness to address climate change post Super Storm Sandy. As they have become so adept at doing, they will kick the can down the road until the next tragedy strikes.