The One About Immigrants

Not long ago, I received a note from the spiritual and community life committee of the lower school at Sandy Spring Friends asking whether the school intended to issue a statement opposing the measures toward immigration and immigrants being discussed at the highest levels of government. Should we adopt such a “minute” (as the Quakers would say), we would be hardly the first school, religious community, or company to do so. Many people–celebrities, CEOs, and ordinary folks–feel compelled to speak out. As do I.

I do not believe it is right for millions of innocent people to live in fear of being rounded up and deported. It is not who we are. I know this because my father was both an immigrant and a refugee. He came to America in 1939. If he had remained in his country of his citizenship, Czechoslovakia, he would have been arrested, deported to a death camp, and murdered. Just like his uncle and aunts and cousins.

Instead, he came to Boston and enrolled at the University of North Carolina (he received a scholarship); majored in Chemistry; graduated and crossed the border to Canada, where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force Czech division. If he had been turned down, it is unclear whether he would have been permitted to return to the United States. He decided to take the risk. He was 21 years old. He survived training and deployed to England where he flew a Spitfire for two years until the war’s end. Had he been taken prisoner, the German military would not have granted him POW status; due to his Father’s ethnicity, he was not considered to be fully human.

Did the United States government have a reason to fear that my father, his parents and his brothers (my Uncle George saw combat in the US Army, Uncle Paul enlisted in the US Navy) were dangerous, a high risk, a cancer to our society because they fled chaos and mayhem and arrived on safe shores?

Within 18 years of his discharge as a decorated pilot, my father had completed his PhD (Carnegie Tech ’48; he later served as a trustee), married my Mother, raised four children (actually that job went on for a while), succeeded in business, and became a member of the Religious Society of Friends. He rarely broke any rules (the occasional speeding ticket, smuggling banned books into Czechoslovakia and, on behalf of others, family heirlooms out).

I can’t imagine a life where he could have been separated from his wife and children at the hands of the Government for the crime of being an immigrant.

Our community recognizes that at the core of Quaker values is the belief that each human has “that of God” inside of them; that Truth-seeking and what the Quakers call “continuing revelation” come from sharing multiple perspectives within a gathered community; and that we seek the peaceful resolution of conflict through a culture of respect for all. Quakers have a long history of standing firm in defense of these values, and actively speaking Truth to power when called upon to do so especially in defense of the most vulnerable. (See a recent blog post for more on the history of Quakers and social activism.) It is in the spirit of our individual testimonies and the School’s Quaker identity that we assert that now, as ever:

We recognize and cherish the worth and dignity of each individual, and we stand in opposition to initiatives that seek to demean and restrict others, including immigrants and refugees, based on attributes of identity such as race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual identity, or country of origin. We stand in solidarity with the members of our community who have felt disrespected or discriminated against by recent political rhetoric or presidential orders. We actively seek a culture of respect and inclusivity and within this culture embrace open dialogue and the celebration of diverse perspectives.

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