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This is about race.

By March 2, 2017 13 Comments

by Kate Kooyman

I sat in a room this week with moms and dads who learned about how they can prepare their families in the event of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.

I learned about the importance of having a plan — collecting documents and birth certificates, authorizing someone to pick children up from school, ensuring children born in the U.S. are registered in the country of their parents’ birth so they aren’t rendered stateless should the family have to relocate.

I learned about explaining to small children that they should not open the door when they hear knocking, because opening a door invites ICE to enter the home and take their mommy or daddy even if they don’t have a warrant.

I learned that in my state, a notary’s stamp is only good for six months, so a document declaring a power of attorney to a friend or family member, in the event that you’re not there to care for your own children, should be kept up to date. Just in case.

These scenarios are horrifying to me. And there is no good explanation, other than my skin color and the timing of my family’s immigration, for why I’m only imagining these chilling scenarios while my neighbors are living them. When my family immigrated to the U.S., they did so under a system that allowed someone who was willing and able to work to find a legal pathway, and that’s exactly how they did it. But now willingness is irrelevant — a person has to already have a job. Unskilled workers need not apply.

And more than that, when my family immigrated to the U.S., they did so under a system that explicitly favored people from northern and western Europe; white people, like my great-grandparents. If you’re white, and your family came before 1965, then the quotas favored you, too. That means your family’s immigration story is less about bootstraps and moxie, and more about a system that was rigged in your favor.

If my family tried to immigrate today, they’d find themselves asking what line they could get in — and they’d find themselves among the 11 million undocumented immigrants for whom there is simply no line.

Except my ancestors, being white, would likely not be a target of Trump’s current immigration enforcement plans. Under the latest memos, it seems clear that the intention is to round up anyone who looks “illegal” — any immigrant who has ever been convicted of a crime, who has merely been accused of a crime, or who simply appears to the officer like they might commit a crime.

And people who look like me are less “criminal”-looking to the average American I think. People who look like me more closely resemble what I guess is meant by Making America Great Again. So even if they snuck into the U.S. today, went around a system that no longer would welcome them, my ancestors would probably still be fine.

I picked up my kid from school today and realized my wallet wasn’t in my purse when I got to the car. I put the keys in the ignition anyway, and drove to school. The whole way there I thought about my whiteness — whiteness which emboldens me to drive without a license, which allows me to arrive late to school without my child panicking that he’ll never see me again, which allows me to easily find a chair at the Preparing for Immigration Enforcement presentation that is half as full as it should be because too many of those most impacted by these draconian policies were just too scared to leave the house.

Immigration in the U.S. is not, if you ask me, really about economics, or security, or the rule of law. It is not about “what part of illegal don’t you understand.” It is not about keeping us safe from criminals.

It is really about race.

“But God has composed the body…that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Corinthians 12).

Kate Kooyman

Rev. Kate Kooyman is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • And as I read this, I was convicted that because of my whiteness most fear I have is “what-will-people-think?” fear, not fear for my safety or the safety of my family. Thank you for writing this.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I think you’re right, tragically, heart-breakingly right.

  • Liz Estes says:

    Thank you for enabling white citizens like me to see with the eyes of 11,000,000 of our neighbors. And how many of their U.S. Citizen children?

  • Ron calsbeek says:

    Thank you for this powerful essay, Kate.

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thanks for opening my eyes, Kate. I need more education and discussion on these topics.

  • Jessica says:

    Yes. Thank you Kate.

  • Suki says:

    So, true. We (white folks) take so much for granted!

  • John says:

    Kate, I must have missed those memos about someone “looking” illegal, can you refresh my memory?

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      “The memo gives broad leeway to immigration officers to make immediate decisions about whom to arrest and says officers should begin actions against individuals they meet in the course of their official duties. This includes the arrest or apprehension of an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws,” the implementation guidance reads, giving officers broad authority to arrest those they suspect of being undocumented.”

  • You support amnesty and open borders. That’s fine. But do you think it’s helpful, accurate, or unifying to automatically label anyone who disagrees with you as a “racist”? That seems to be your entire argument.

    • Kate Kooyman says:

      This blogpost says nothing about amnesty or open borders, and does not accuse people of being racist based on their political views.

      • Are you not saying the relative brown-ness of someone’s skin determines whether or not immigration law is being enforced in their particular case? If that’s not what you’re intending to convey, please re-write this post. Because that’s what it says.

        Also, your post implicitly states you are in favor of amnesty and open borders (as does your reply, which curiously avoids a statement to the contrary, and merely says the “post itself” doesn’t talk about those 2 specific ideas).

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