I’m a Feminist Jewish Expatriate: Here’s Why Immigration Policy Matters To Me

The leadership of our nation of immigrants’ utilizes hateful rhetoric to dehumanize immigrants and justify the abusive treatment of children and families.

That is the disgusting reality of America today. It shouldn’t take much to rally empathy around the vulnerable and victimized, yet we continue to face a stubborn wall of apathy from policymakers and law enforcement.

I shouldn’t have to explain my emotional investment in the humane treatment of immigrants, but I do.

I’m an intersectional feminist. I advocate for the equal and just treatment of all women and strive to eradicate barriers imposed by hegemonic patriarchy. My feminism does not limit my empathy towards male immigrants, but it’s important to highlight the gendered nuances of immigration issues. Women and girls seeking refuge in the United States are often fleeing sexual and/or domestic violence. They are also susceptible to sexual harassment, violence, and trafficking if they are detained in the United States. In recent events, women have experienced unique abuse under border enforcement as children have been ripped from their breastfeeding mothers and girls have been lost to human trafficking. Also, the systematic power of toxic masculinity in America has accumulated in the aggressive and violent treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers. It is the combination of unchecked male aggression in power positions and disrespect towards vulnerable women and girls that make immigration a feminist issue.

My Jewish heritage means I grew up studying the Holocaust and striving to comprehend how my religious ethnicity constituted genocide throughout modern Europe. The ways Hitler used incremental rhetoric and policy change to escalate anti-semitism is eerily similar to Trump’s depiction and treatment of immigrant families. As someone who knows Holocaust history well enough to understand the dangerous nuances of normalizing the contemporary political climate, I have an obligation to dissent and advocate on behalf of immigrant families. In June I had the opportunity to put my body on the line in a civil disobedience action protesting family separation. I ultimately decided the issue was worth risking arrest for because of a poem by Martin Niemoller:

First, they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me.

This poem reminded me of how dangerous the divisive identification of scapegoats can be. It also reignited the urgency that the unaffected majority still has an obligation to speak up and protest the dehumanizing alienation of another group.

Lastly, I was raised as an expatriate. Expatriates live and work in foreign countries because they are employed by international companies, organizations and government positions. Phrased bluntly, they are like immigrants with privilege. The privilege that separates the expat experience from the immigrant experience is significant. Expats expect people abroad to speak English over their native language. Expats live comfortably, as their housing and educational expenses are usually covered by their employer. Most importantly, expats are generally welcomed by their host country and never experience blatant xenophobia. Acknowledging the privilege I experienced as an American expat in Switzerland, England and Thailand highlighted that it is possible for countries to show respect towards foreigners seeking economic opportunity in their country. The fact that my expat experience is so radically different from immigrants in America proves that xenophobia stems from the fear driven by racism and classism and not genuine economic realities.

America has always been a nation of immigrants, since the first British colony in Jamestown in 1607. Unfortunately, since then, the constant influx of new cultures and ethnicities has always been met with racism and xenophobia from the comfortable who fear change, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to end the cycle of hate towards newcomers. As a feminist Jewish expat, I empathize with the urgency of this humanitarian crisis and I urge my countrymen and countrywomen to approach immigration issues with the humanity and compassion it deserves.

Hayley M., is a Communications and Graphics Intern at the National Organization for Women (NOW) Action Center in Washington, DC. She is a student at George Washington University

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