US elections

[OPINION] The real wall

Jath Shao

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[OPINION] The real wall
'The real wall is built in the hearts and minds and soul of America, where Faux News creates enemies for the people to fear'

In some ways, 2020 was the best year ever and yet it’s also a year that will live in infamy. An age of amazing technological advances, and an era when anti-intellectual, science-denying, well-meaning, media-disbelieving, logic-deficient, proudly-ignorant people pulled off their masks. A time when beliefs divided us. When it’s taboo for one religion’s ideas to be law in other lands, but just for another faith’s tenets to dominate the Senate and Supreme Court. A summer of hoping the virus would fade away was actually just the trailer for 2020’s autumn of despair.

In America, fall is a time of sweaters and jackets, of pumpkin spice everything, and turning up the heat to ward off the cooler breeze. The leaves burst into color one last time before scattering with the wind. Winter is coming, and in some parts it is already here. Snow blankets the ground like lahar after a typhoon. This cultural crossroads offers voters a binary choice between two distinct alternatives, and we’ve reached the moment of truth

Reality bites

Despite stealing billions from the American military to pay for a few miles of new construction, the real wall that the reality TV star built against immigration was never made of beautiful black bollards of steel and concrete along the southern border. It was just a mirage, or in business speak – marketing. There are more Canadian snowbirds who bend immigration law than Mexican day laborers, and conservative newspapers feature articles from Australians openly flaunting their violations of their visa-free travel privileges. Most of the xenophobes in red hats don’t know their history; their ancestors would most likely never have been able to come to an America in the modern era, and we all live on stolen land.

The vast majority of the undocumented did not come on foot across the desert or swim murky waters to land their dry feet on American soil. Most come legally by plane and overstay their visas, sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes through no fault of their own. Like Rex Navarette memorably joked in his classic cartoon about the Superfriends’ maid, the Maritesses of the world who become illegal aliens when their visas expire are from Earth. Yet we have a president who wanted to cosplay as Superman after his recent recovfefe from the ‘rona.

The real wall

The real wall is in the mounds of paperwork that USCIS and the immigration courts send by regular mail with no tracking whatsoever. It’s in the reams of requests for evidence for anything, even trivial details that don’t apply to the cases at hand. The real wall is in the quick denials that State Department adjudicators hand down to applicants, written on brightly colored paper, with very little recourse and no refunds, of course.

The real wall was not just the executive orders that banned travelers from majority Muslim countries, enabled by Justice Kennedy’s swing vote. The real wall is here, when American citizens and legal permanent residents still can’t bring their loved ones home because of red tape and priority dates. The real wall targets international students, scholars, and doctors that are unfortunate enough to have a foreign education or foreign name.

The real wall uses the pretext of coronavirus restrictions to target family-based immigration. Often, it’s how you frame the discussion: if we were talking about taking away American citizens’ rights to reunite their families, would people still feel the same? Sadly, some do.

The real wall appears at international airports, where grandmas coming to meet their grandchildren get pulled into secondary inspection and interrogated, with officers hoping to trick them into saying they’re here to “take care” of the kids and thus are illegally working. The real wall is built in the hearts and minds and soul of America, where Faux News creates enemies for the people to fear. Strangely, immigration has not really been a central issue in this campaign season, as the Republican party has leaned into the strategy of convincing the lowest white person that they are better than the best colored person even as all of our pockets are being emptied.

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A tale of two lockdowns

The Filipino diaspora has spread us across the globe, but patterns emerge as life finds a way. Ohio and Michigan are Midwestern battleground states whose enmity stems not just from football, but politics as well. The two states actually fought a war over Toledo, and their political leanings mirror the scarlet and gray or maize and blue of their big state university football teams.

The Fil-Am communities are similar too; there’s a generation of doctors now in their 70s and 80s, and a generation of nurses in their 40s. Younger generations are most likely descendants of the above, and the second and third generations tend to move away from the pancit of their parents’ tight-knit Pinoy communities to blend into nicer suburbs or better jobs in bigger cities on the coasts.

State governments in both states issued stay-at-home orders relatively early in the pandemic – at the tail end of winter. Both allowed minimal business activities while encouraging non-essential work to shut down. Now, as temperatures drop below freezing and winter is here again, people have begun to act like things are normal. Gyms and restaurants are crowded again, and there are churches that never stopped holding services despite second and third waves of viral infections. Yet the same impulses that pushed Americans toward resisting common-sense safety innovations like seatbelts or airbags continue to fool people into rejecting simple solutions like masks. Freedom is important here, and some think their freedoms trump caring about anyone else’s health.

Keep your head up

Domestic terrorists armed to the teeth flooded Michigan’s capitol to protest their female Democratic governor, even as the male Republican governor in Ohio was praised for his wisdom. Red-hatted Fil-Ams from coastal elite cities far from the Midwest raged about the tyranny of Michigan, without ever stepping across state lines.

Egged on by an orange man, militant anti-lockdown men planned to kidnap Michigan’s governor to put her on trial for imaginary crimes. Yet in Ohio, the governor was never really in any danger. The person who the angry white men came for was Dr Amy Acton, who resigned as director of the Ohio Department of Health. Why? Because armed men literally came to her home to protest. Would they have done that to a man?

Support local

Not to discount the names at the top of the ballot, but the rest of voters’ choices matter too. You’re more likely to be able to complain and get a response from a local official like a mayor or city council member than a senator or President.

The school board matters too; it sets policy and balances the budget for public schools in the district, and most importantly, educates your children while you’re at work. In states that elect judges, sheriffs, or other public servants involved in law enforcement or the criminal injustice system, those choices have huge impacts on the community.

If con is the opposite of pro, what is the opposite of progress? If you’ve been paying attention to American politics for the past decade, then you know the power the legislative branch has to pass or block the president’s plans. Those are the races that I would watch most closely tomorrow, and continue to hope that change is just a day away. –

Jath Shao is an attorney based in Ohio who helps immigrants achieve the American Dream. Born in Manila, he’s hardly home but always representing.

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