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[Immigration News]
Leading authors, academics, poets send open letter to Congress asking them to address " the inhumane conditions in detention centers for asylum seekers at our southern border."
Photo: YouTube screenshot

In a recent letter to Congress, dozens of immigrant/refugee authors—novelists, narrators, poets, memoirists, Pulitzer Prize winners, Oprah’s Book Club selections, and bestsellers from five continents—urged Congress to address the atrocities happening on America's southern border. Here is that letter.

Dear Members of the United States Congress:

We, like many of our fellow Americans, are appalled by the inhumane conditions in detention centers for asylum seekers at our southern border. The reports of death, abuse, overcrowding, untreated illness, malnutrition, and lack of basic hygiene are abhorrent, especially since many of those affected are children.

We appeal to you as published authors who are also immigrants and/or refugees. Many of us came to the U.S. as children and shudder to think how this country would treat us now. As such, we urge you to take immediate steps to rectify the atrocious conditions for asylum seekers being detained today.

The past three years have compelled millions of Americans, and many of our civic institutions, to reaffirm that this country remains the land of immigrants. People across the U.S. stood up to protest the White House’s refugee bans; faith leaders opened their communities to aid asylum seekers; local, municipal and state governments and the judicial branch exercised their powers to uphold and defend immigrant rights. Congress must act as well.

Many of you have defended immigrants and refugees with righteous eloquence, invoking our nation’s past and cherished symbols such as the Statue of Liberty. As writers, we appreciate the sublime power of words. But as immigrants, we also remember the brutal reality: when you’re walking in a strange land, herded by strange men who speak in strange tongues, when you’re stripped of basic human needs, when you’re hungry, cold and helpless, words aren’t enough.

We urge Congress to use its appropriation power to direct the following actions:

(1) Immediately direct all resources necessary to shelter migrants with decency and dignity by providing them access to medical care, nutrition and hygiene;

(2) Reverse the massive backlogs in the immigration justice system by allocating resources for judges to hear cases efficiently, with due process, as well as strengthening legal orientation to ensure every person understands every step of their proceedings;

(3) Forbid tax dollars from being spent on forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico or other unsafe third countries where they face danger;

(4) Reestablish safe and legal channels for migrants by tying immigration enforcement spending to the reopening of legal channels for migrants fleeing persecution and reversing the White House’s evisceration of the refugee resettlement program.

Polls show that the vast majority of Americans are horrified by the suffering unfolding in the camps. We call on you to leverage that public support to meet our moral obligations by ensuring those held by our own government receive elementary necessities like sanitation supplies and access to medical and legal personnel.

We remember well the experience of utter paralysis that’s part of nearly every immigrant’s journey: of standing before the US immigration system, praying to not be found wanting.

Today, those enduring unspeakable conditions at our border are praying, just as we once prayed, when it was our turn. They may be praying to a different god, or different gods or different entities, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is that the power to address their prayers lies with you, the United States Congress.

Please, do not let them go unheeded.

Respectfully yours,

Alex Abramovich, author, writer, and professor, Columbia University School of the Arts

Mohammed AL Samawi, author and interfaith activist

Reza Aslan, author, commentator, professor, and producer

Ishmael Beah, author and human rights advocate

Livia Blackburne, author

Gabriel Byrne, actor, director, producer, and cultural ambassador

Lan Cao, author and professor, Chapman University

René Colato Laínez, children’s book author and bilingual educator

Ariel Dorfman, author, playwright, essayist, and professor, Duke University

Boris Fishman, author, journalist, and professor, Princeton University

Neil Gaiman, author, screenwriter, director, producer, and activist

Lev Golinkin, author and journalist

Reyna Grande, author and inspirational speaker

Roy Guzmán, poet

Roya Hakakian, author, poet, and journalist

Khaled Hosseini, author, physician and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

Abdi Nor Iftin, author and interpreter

Ilya Kaminsky, poet, critic, translator, and professor, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

Angie Kim, author and essayist

Imbolo Mbue, author

Colum McCann, author; member, American Academy of Arts; and professor, Hunter College

Yamile Saied Méndez, author

Maaza Mengiste, author and professor, Hunter College and Princeton University

Wayétu Moore, author; memoirist; journalist; founder, One Moore Book; and lecturer, City University of New York’s John Jay College

Paul Muldoon, poet and professor, Princeton University

Azar Nafisi, author, essayist, scholar, and fellow, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

Viet Thanh Nguyen, novelist and professor, University of Southern California

Bao Phi, poet, essayist, spoken word artist, and community activist

Garry Pierre-Pierre, photographer; founder and publisher, The Haitian Times; and professor, Brooklyn College

Carolina Rivera Escamilla, author, director, theater actor, and producer

Fariha Róisín , author, editor, poet, podcaster, and writer-at-large/culture editor, The Juggernaut

Nikesh Shukla, author, editor and podcaster

Gary Shteyngart, author

Jim St. Germain, author, social entrepreneur, presidential appointee, and co-founder, Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow, Inc.

Chimene Suleyman, poet, writer, editor, and spoken word performer

Monique Truong, author, lyricist/librettist, and essayist

Anya Ulinich, novelist, graphic novelist, and short story writer

Ocean Vuong, poet, author, essayist and professor, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Sholeh Wolpé , poet, writer, literary translator, and inaugural author in residence, UCLA

Rafia Zakaria, author, columnist, book critic, and resident scholar, The City College of New York

Signers have endorsed this Open Letter as individuals and not on behalf of any organization.

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