In December 2000, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed December 18 International Migrants Day, choosing that day as it was on the same date in 1990 that the General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
A lot has changed for migrants since then, and some conditions haven’t changed at all. The one constant has been that no matter the deterrents used by governments, no matter the anti-immigrant rhetoric deployed, no matter the risk or cost, people have always migrated and will continue to migrate globally. This is because their lives depend on their ability to move from one place to another—for family, for work, and in many cases for safety.
Even as immigration has dominated news headlines over the past few years, migrants’ perspectives aren’t typically at the center of the reporting—never mind their tenacity, resilience, and power. For International Migrants Day, Rewire.News asked 11 self-identified migrants and two children of migrants representing nine countries to envision a world that truly honored and respected migrants. What would that look like? As one participant said, “Freedom, equality, justice, and all the other principles and values we seek to aspire collectively, as declared in our national and international legal frameworks, can only exist as a function of our capacity to build inclusive societies. Our treatment of migrant and displaced populations is an indication of the extent to which we truly subscribe to said principles and values.”
Here are all of their responses, in full.
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Name: Christian Emeka Uche
Country of origin: Nigeria
“I have been in the United States for seven years and currently work for Rebtel, a migrant-founded tech company.
“The first time I came to America, let me not lie: The way people treated me at first was not all that good. They made fun of the way I spoke, and this brought me down. I didn’t like it; it was very sad. When I got too frustrated by it, I decided to blank out all the negativity and just focus on myself. Being an immigrant isn’t easy. [We must] truly honor and respect immigrants [by understanding] we all left our homes for America to start a new and better life.”
Name: Nana Gyamfi
Parents’ country of origin: Ghana
“I am a Ghanaian woman born in the United States, a mother of a fabulous son, the managing director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and a movement attorney.
“A world that truly honors and respects migrants is a world without borders. It is a world without cages/detention centers/jails. A world where people move as they see fit and without restriction. A world that prioritizes the needs and safety of the very migrants being disproportionately attacked internationally today—those migrants who are Black, Muslim, LGBTQ, disabled, ill, impoverished, and/or fleeing physical, economic, or social violence. A world that truly honors and respects migrants would support the needs of the most vulnerable among us. It is a world in which travel and movement are encouraged outside of the confines and coffers of capitalism and imperialism. In spite of the global xenophobic opposition, a world that truly honors and respects migrants is inevitable because we will not be deterred from asserting our right to migrate, and we will never stop our efforts to dismantle whatever oppressive systems stand in our way.”
Name: Dina El-Rifai
Country of origin: Egypt
“I am a Muslim Egyptian immigrant, writer, abolitionist, and advocate who migrated to the United States on the July 4, 2000, with my family. I am currently a graduate student pursuing a degree in social policy, with a background in social work.
“A world that honors and respects migrants is a world that pays tribute to the global diaspora of Black and brown resistance to white supremacy, militarization, and colonialism. It is a world that is inspired and strengthened by the voices of those courageous enough to resist oppressive systems. A world that values the dignity and worth of migrants is a world that actively uplifts and amplifies the voices of the most vulnerable and marginalized; a world where white people in particular take ownership of the transformative power of accountability and responsibility in a world that continues to be harmed by white supremacy; a world in which one group of people’s security doesn’t impede on or violate other people’s security, humanity, or dignity. It is a world that promotes and fosters healing for migrant communities that have faced traumas and injustices, a world that nourishes love and solidarity in the pursuit of justice and liberation.”
Name: Rocio Maradiegue
Parents’ country of origin: Peru
“I am the proud daughter of Peruvian immigrants and a first-generation American whose work revolves around women, security, human rights, women’s rights, and migration. The work I do is in part because of my upbringing and always feeling indebted to my roots. I am the first person in my family to pursue a graduate degree.
“I would imagine a world that truly honors and respect migrants to be a world that acknowledges and respects that migration is a human right and that the right to asylum is legal and recognized under international law. This world would also need to ensure that it recognizes the gendered impacts of migration, particularly that women face different risks when in transit, upon reaching their destination, and while living in their destination. Most, if not all of us are products of migration and this is something we all need to come to terms with. Migration can be forced or voluntary and there should be a universal understanding of this in order to genuinely honor and respect migrants and their right to a dignified life.”
Name: Yosimar Reyes
Country of origin: Mexico
“I am an undocumented queer poet.
“In a world that truly honored migrants, we would see speaking another language as a virtue. We would see accents as something divine, our names and pronunciations as intriguing. We wouldn’t try to dilute the taste of our foods or have to apologize for its smell. We would be allowed to be loud, to be bold, to speak with confidence. No one will ask or question us for our papers, we wouldn’t be criminalized for our jobs. In a world that truly honors migrants, we will have an understanding that we all came from somewhere, we are all on a journey. Empathy would be the force we move with. In a world that valued migrants, we will not centralize whiteness and its anxiety. We would be allowed to laugh, to feel joy, to dance without the fear of the shame of being told we don’t belong or that we are unwanted.”
Name: Mari Y.
Country of origin: Mexico
“I am a graphic designer, filmmaker, and newly naturalized citizen who grew up undocumented in a mixed-status family. I am a first-generation immigrant and was brought to this country as a toddler by my strong, independent, and intelligent mom, who laid the foundations for my Chicana feminist politics.
“The idea of a political borders between countries is incomprehensible to me. We are all on one Earth, and even if we’re in different political countries, we all affect each other’s lives. I would like to envision a global society that upholds and supports one another while respecting each other’s independent needs. We have Central American brothers and sisters literally begging for their lives at the border, and we need to allow each and every person in. Why are we placing the burden of proof on the persecuted instead of helping them? All people deserve to live a life not just free from hunger, violence, and poverty, but full of prosperity. We all deserve bread and roses.”
Name: Loan Tran
Country of origin: Vietnam
“I am a queer, gender-nonconforming socialist organizer, writer, and immigrant in the southern United States, by way of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
“I am fighting for all those who have ever hidden in the shadows with fear of the fires we did not start; who have ever been lonely in the distance forced by borders, prisons, and detention centers; who have ever doubted our value, which only we can speak to and for, something no document could ever provide. I am fighting for a world where migration is not a matter of fleeing and we do not need permission for what we may cross oceans and deserts in our desire for, if we so choose: love, dignity, and belonging. The kind of world that truly honors and respects migrants is a world where our joy and grief are our own and it is a given that we are worthy and deserving of a life to live. A world for migrants unapologetically honors Black people, queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people, Indigenous people, women, and disabled people. This world would reject white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism and instead be committed to the preciousness and depth of human possibility. We know deep in our bones what it means to start a new life, what it means to be possible, what it means to re-create the world. I am fighting for us to do that, on our own terms.”
Name: Winner Moses
Country of origin: Nigeria
“I am an international college student, currently in my senior year. I am first generation, and I want to make my family proud of me.
“A world [that honors migrants] gives us immigrants the opportunity to exercise our skills because every person has potential. It would not discriminate [against people] because of the country they came from.”
Name: Elba Landaverde
Country of origin: El Salvador
“My family qualified for temporary protected status (TPS) because they were not able to return to El Salvador. I am the mother of four, and I have a good union job as a guest room attendant in Las Vegas, where immigrants are a big part of the hospitality industry.
“[Migrants] need a chance like my family has been given the chance to build our lives and future here. That is why it is necessary for continued work authorizations for TPS holders, but also for a permanent solution through comprehensive immigration reform so that immigrants can keep advancing in the American dream. I would like to see a pathway to citizenship, access to good union jobs, and [personally], access to a home and food for my children without any worry that it could all be taken away tomorrow.”
Name: Sonia Guiñansaca
Country of origin: Ecuador
“I am a culture creator and organizer; a poet; a migrant; PapiFemme, gender nonconforming; and managing director of CultureStrike.
“I look towards my parents faces and imagine this world to be full of laughter, smiles, tenderness, and so much healing. This world still being envisioned will be a space where queer trans gender nonconforming migrants of color can safely call home and live a life full of dignity. This world still being envisioned will be a space where climate refugees can safely call home and live a life full of dignity. There will be no wall, no border, no [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], no border patrol, no detention centers, no prisons. In its physical space where now these abandoned detention facilities once existed, there will be bushes of roses and sunflowers, and children laughing and children holding their parents’ hands because these places have become parks now. This world will smell of lavender and the sun will fall on the faces of people moving around freely, will fall on the faces of animals moving freely. This world is a world I will get to live in. This world still being imagined will be crafted by poets, writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, photographers, cooks, and healers. And in this world, my parents, my grandparents, my ancestors will look at me and in their eyes, there will be no worry; in their eyes there will be love and calmness and peace.”
Name: Nancy Landa
Country of origin: Mexico
“I am a migration researcher and advocacy strategist, a deportee, and a blogger.
“I would like to live in a world where a person’s dignity and humanity were valued irrespective of nationality or legal status; a world where belonging was not dictated by immigration laws and where a sense of community transcended our existing arbitrary borders. That world would certainly be invested in a regional and global community, addressing the interconnected issues that affect us all, rather than operating from an irrational fear of the ‘other,’ which only serves to justify cruel and unjust systems we currently see reflected in immigration, detention, and deportation policy around the world. Freedom, equality, justice, and all the other principles and values we seek to aspire collectively, as declared in our national and international legal frameworks, can only exist as a function of our capacity to build inclusive societies. Our treatment of migrant and displaced populations is an indication of the extent to which we truly subscribe to said principles and values.”
Name: Azul Uribe
Country of origin: Mexico
“I am a deportee whose ten-year ban from the United States is almost up.
“I want to have the imagination I had as a child in regard to my body and the space it could move in, and the bodies of others, and the spaces they could exist in. I say this because this question [of honoring migrants] has been difficult to put into writing because there is still residual fear in me. Foundationally, it would look like a world without borders, but also a world that does not require labor for immigrants to have respect. A world that foundationally takes care of the lives of immigrants is one that pursues a peace that is inclusive of others, that does away with the artificial idea of peace that requires war to line their pockets and kills nature and other humans to do so. It’s a world where one gets to choose where they live because the vastness of a healthy world is at their reach—whether at home, in their language with their food and their customs, or far from it. It’s a world where we don’t have to flee for safety, for food, for sustenance, for labor, but where we get to choose to stay or go and see new places. It’s where adventure and safety and love and community get to be the way we build our society, not money and running from nightmares. It’s a world where we don’t wonder what could have been and who could have been with us—a real palpable world without ghosts or fear.”
Name: Belinda Hanzman
Country of Origin: Honduras
“I have been a TPS holder for 19 years. I am a wife and a mother of two beautiful kids—David, 15, and Vivian, 12. I work full time as a housekeeper at Walt Disney World and I am a union leader with Unite Here 737, which represents the workers at Disney. I consider myself a fighter; I fight for immigrant rights here in Orlando and in Washington, D.C., by lobbying members of Congress.
“My dream is that one day we all could live in this beautiful country with freedom and respect, honoring the values on which it was founded—that all men are created equal and that immigrants can live without fear of being separated from their families. As an immigrant, I believe that we deserve that and more because we are a big factor in the economy and social structure of this country. Most of us are involved in organizations that benefit our communities, and many are business owners that provide jobs. I am an immigrant who loves the United States, and what I envision for myself and all immigrants is to live in a democracy with equality, rights, liberty, and opportunity.”