“I happened to know, what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused. If I had never been angry about that I should never have written the book.”
(George Orwell, “Why I Write”)
When I was last blogging regularly, I was sending letters to the Catholic Right, trying to persuade its members to change their minds about LGBT rights, rigid gender roles, and feminism.
I wrote my last post on that blog on April 16th of last year, though really I started saying goodbye in the summer of 2015, after I saw the Catholic Right’s reaction to the Obergefell decision that made gay marriage legal across the nation. I just didn’t think I had much to say to the Catholic Right anymore, and without that impetus, I didn’t know what to write.
A lot has changed since I started blogging. I finished grad school, and now I’m a high school teacher. I still live in the same great Texas city, though I’ve moved from the south to the northwest part of town. My daughter, who was a toddler when I started blogging, is now a kindergartner.
And new issues have been pressing themselves into my consciousness. First, working at a charter school gave me new perspective on the school choice debate, and last year, when my patience with the Catholic Right was waning, I thought about starting to write on that topic. But then, as I got to know my school, its students, and their concerns, another issue moved from the edges of my attention to its center to the point that now it’s nearly all I can think about: the sweep of Trumpism through our society, and its implications for the young people I teach.
See, the student population at my school is about 96% Latino; many of my students are undocumented immigrants, and even more have at least one undocumented parent. I’ve been teaching for sixteen years now–I taught high school before grad school, and while in grad school I taught at two universities. I’ve witnessed student reactions to every election since Bush-Kerry. I’ve never seen anything like what I witnessed in my school during the buildup to this election, or like its aftermath.
In his essay “Why I Write,” George Orwell describes a particularly un-poetic chapter in his 1938 memoir of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia. In it, Orwell resorted to sheer reportage in defense of Trotskyites who were falsely accused of collaborating with Franco. Orwell worried that the chapter ruined the book. It was too dry, too factual. Nonetheless, he had to include it. “I happened to know,” Orwell explains, “what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused.”
What I take from that is that when you have special knowledge of a political situation, you have a special responsibility to share that knowledge. And because of my new job, I happen to know things, too.
I happen to know, for example, what immigrant students write about what their lives are like now, under the Trump regime. I happen to know how they react when they hear the president’s name, or when they hear about anti-immigrant bills like SB4 or HB 383 in Texas. (To generalize, the girls start talking and planning and asking questions; the boys look down and to the side in anger.)
And I happen to know, too, that many Americans–white Americans like me, like the friends I grew up with–will never have to face this reality. I know that many of these Americans are kindhearted and don’t want to see families broken up over decades-old immigration violations. I also know that some of those same Americans soothe themselves with the notion that ICE is only going after the “bad guys.” I had one conversation with a Trump voter who told me that she supports the new DHS deportation priorities because, she said, “the same sort of felonies that would land me in prison are the going to land some illegal immigrants back in their home countries.”
I happen to know that’s not the real story. I happen to know, for example, that more than half of the immigrants arrested in February’s ICE raid in Austin had no prior criminal records. I happen to know, too, that many of my students have had parents deported solely for immigration-related offenses, or for “crimes” that would never land a (white) citizen in prison.
My goal here is not to be alarmist. But here’s the thing: we’re not even two months into the new administration. The DHS memos haven’t even really taken effect–10,000 ICE and 5,000 Border Patrol agents remain to be hired. The Department of Homeland Security is still just “considering” a policy of separating mothers from their children at the border.
But we’ve already had massive, multi-city roundups of illegal immigrants, so public and visible they’ve created community-wide panic. We’ve already deported mothers and grandmothers whose only crimes were immigration-related offenses. We’ve already seen a five-year-old handcuffed at an airport, and a father picked up by immigration agents while driving his daughters to school. And the administration has announced that they’ll track and publicize “honor killings” among Muslims, and that they’ll create a special bureau (VOICE) to publicize crimes by illegal immigrants.
And, already, a student from my charter system has lost a parent to deportation in the Trump era.
It will happen again. That’s not me being dramatic—it’s simple extrapolation from what’s happened before, from Trump’s words, and from the orders he’s already signed. More and more of my students will have to deal with the fallout of the promises our new president made on the campaign trail.
So I needed a place to write about that, semi-regularly and at least semi-publically. I won’t only write about immigration here—I’ll still write about religion, and feminism, and LGBT rights. But I needed a blog with a theme broad enough to make room for all of that. That’s what this space is intended to be.
So please check back, and please add your comments!