Maggie Fogarty is the NH Programs Director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Grace Kindeke is Program Coordinator for the AFSC’s NH program and winner of this year’s Martin Luther King Award.
In the weeks leading up to the holiday, as many in New Hampshire planned to celebrate the end of the year and spend time with loved ones, two of New Hampshire’s most prominent citizens voted in Washington DC to put asylum seekers at risk.
The Senate voted on a budget proposal, trying to avert a government shutdown ahead of the holiday. An amendment was proposed that would expand Title 42, the Trump-era order that used the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine international law and deny vulnerable people the right to seek asylum in the United States. Sens. Shaheen and Hassan both voted in favour. Despite their votes, we are relieved that the measure was not adopted.
For the past three years, Title 42 has prevented hundreds of thousands of (mostly black and brown) migrants from seeking asylum in the United States. Title 42 is not part of the Immigration Act; In response to the pandemic, it has had little justification as a public health measure, although medical professionals, public health experts, the CDC itself and the 5th Circuit Court have repeatedly stated that it has no real public health benefit.
Although that amendment was ultimately rejected, Hassan and Shaheen are part of a larger trend in both parties to prioritize a cruel, expensive, and short-sighted approach to people coming to the United States. In early January 2023, two years into his tenure, President Biden traveled to the border and continued to threaten the rights and lives of asylum seekers and other migrants, expanding the categories of migrants subject to Title 42, erecting numerous additional barriers, and increasing the discretionary powers of border guards despite their documented abuse of migrants, misuse of public funds and lack of transparency.
This is terrible news for people stranded in cold weather and dangerous conditions on the other side of the US-Mexico border. It’s also terrible news for the people of New Hampshire. At AFSC, we have seen an alarming increase in the number of immigrants being held in the Strafford County Jail (New Hampshire’s immigrant detention center).
Members of our community spent the holidays without family members due to the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, addiction, lack of health care, or lack of housing. Others spent the holiday without family because their loved ones are stuck on the other side of the border. Rather than listening to and responding to those needs, our senators voted for a budget that included billions of dollars for immigration officials but eliminated protections for young immigrants and cut funding for basic services, including much-needed resources for a truly humane and orderly one immigration process.
Thousands of people in New Hampshire are homeless. Our schools are underfunded and our people are thrown into jails, jails and detention centers instead of getting the support and opportunities they need to thrive. The militarization of our borders and the rejection of those seeking safety or a better life harms everyone. Instead, we must welcome migrants and invest in the support services we all need to thrive.
New Hampshire already has a strong refugee reception and care network. We know how to welcome people in a way that reflects our values. In doing so, we demonstrate our integrity as a nation and our respect and compassion for all who come to our shores in search of safety, hope and a new life.
The US government knows how to do that, too, if it wants to. The humanitarian crisis we are now witnessing stems from decades of inaction and systematic divestment by our convention leaders. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, more than 82,000 Ukrainians have been able to come to the United States and have been treated fairly and humanely. We must extend the same welcome to those fleeing violence in Haiti, Central and South America and Africa.
The sheer racism of US immigration policy is undeniable. As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are called to reflect on the words of Dr. King, who said in 1967: “Now let us return to the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for a new world. That is the vocation of [children] From God…[who] wait anxiously for our reply. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the fight is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life oppose their full arrival? [people], and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message – of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their longings, of commitment to their cause…”
dr King’s words ring as true today as they did in 1967. Will we continue to turn our backs on the people of the world, the damage caused by war and economic violence at the hands of our own governments, and the people who have traveled long? and dangerous ways just to seek a better life? Or will we refer to Dr. Build King’s vision to be strong together, to demand better of our leaders and work to create this new world?