I have learned that undocumented residents in Washington fear deportation so intensely that when wildfires hit their towns, they often chose not to seek refuge in shelters or receive available food and medical assistance from government agencies, since they have been so ingrained to view any person in a uniform as a threat. I have learned that sometimes the safer choice seems to be staying in an evacuated area instead of risking deportation at the hands of the officers who will escort you out (assuming you even have the means to make that choice—a car or access to reliable public transport, and English proficiency to understand the evacuation warnings).
So, I have spent a lot of time learning a lot of depressing, frustrating facts. But, I have also learned that I am not the solution to any of these problems. I am not a native Seattleite or Washingtonian, nor am I am immigrant, refugee, person of color, non-English speaker or resident of a zone particularly vulnerable to wildfires or floods.
I have learned about the fight to provide equitable disaster assistance to all people in Washington, but I have also learned that this is not my fight. These issues, though devastating, do not directly affect me. At the end of the summer, I will fly back to the East Coast and leave the wildfires and people of Washington State behind.
I have been reminded that, unfortunately, many community members impacted by inequitable disaster relief policies do not have the means to fight for their rights. I am grateful that they have reached out to OneAmerica, and humbled that they have given me the privilege to work with them and help empower them to achieve expression of their rights.
But, I cannot forget the position that I am coming from. I will not forget that this is their fight, and I am just the person fortunate enough to be able to look at their issues through a computer screen, behind a desk, or across the table in a conference room. While I hope to truly help these communities this summer by pushing for policies that better protect them, I cannot forget that I am not a member of these communities. By sharing their stories and opening up to me, these individuals are being brave, courageous and strong. I am working to establish trust, create an open dialogue, and devise policy recommendations that will be well received by legislators. We are all working hard, but I still have a lot of learning to do.
By Emily Nagler