This past Wednesday, our country celebrated Independence Day. In reflecting on our founding, who we are and who we want to be as a nation, it is impossible to ignore or be silent about what is happening at our borders and in our communities.
We are a nation built by industrious and brave immigrants who created a better future for the next generation of Americans. Our ancestors made enduring sacrifices traveling to an unknown land to freely practice their religion, to earn the fruits of their hard labor and to enjoy the benefits of a free and safe society.
We remember these brave immigrant stories along with the dark side of the American narrative — centuries of slaves helping build a nation’s economy, Jim Crow laws keeping us separate, internment of innocent Japanese whether or not they were U.S. citizens, and now border refugee detention centers tearing families apart.
As at the time of our nation’s founding, we still strive to recognize every human’s inalienable and equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These stories, the inspiring and dark ones, must be remembered to further our progression and realize the ideals set forth in 1776.
In Utah, we are proud of our industrious nature and of our love for family and God. Utah’s founding families were fleeing persecution and searching for a safe place to raise their families and prosper — not unlike our immigrant brothers and sisters showing up at our borders today.
Are we now in the process of repeating our past, or will we learn from our nation’s history?
What does it say about us when we tear families apart and strip away basic protections for immigrant children and families — our fellow humans — who only want to be safe, work hard and stay together as a family?
As founding members of Women United, we made a commitment to support our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. We have done this for over a decade, in partnership with United Way of Salt Lake, through our monetary donations and volunteer work in the community with underserved children and families. This on-the-ground work helped shape our understanding of, and position on, the critical need to support compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform that focuses on children and families.
Humane, proven alternatives to separating children from their parents, or locking entire families up in detention centers are available. These alternatives to detention (ATD) programs have been shown to not only be successful, but also to be financially prudent and less detrimental to the emotional well-being of children and families. Unfortunately, these programs have only been used to supplement, rather than replace detention. And a promising pilot with immigrant families was eliminated a year ago.
Let’s also remember the millions of brilliant and patriotic Dreamers who attend school with our children, volunteer in our communities, want to work and love this country as much as we do.
Now is the time to open our arms and hearts — get to know the immigrants and refugees that live in our communities. Join United Way of Salt Lake and become a mentor. Donate to organizations that support due process, compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform, and invest in building welcoming communities.
Now is the time for our leaders to stand up and fix our broken immigration laws — we need you Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Rob Bishop, Rep. John Curtis, Rep. Mia Love and Rep. Chris Stewart, to stand up for the values this country was founded on and are embodied in the welcoming people and communities of our state.
Now is the time that we must use our voice — call your senators and congressmen and women. Ask them to investigate and provide oversight on the reunification families that have been separated. Ask them to pass compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform.
Jennifer Smith, executive vice president and chief information officer of Zions Bancorporation, and Paula Green Johnson, community advocate, are founding members of United Way of Salt Lake Women United. Women United, made up of 250 local women leaders, engage their power, wisdom and generosity to ensure children and families are successful in school and life.