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Leonard Pitts: Americans can combat evil done in our names

By Leonard Pitts

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays.

We know because Perry Como reminds us incessantly every year about this time. And because the airports become madhouses and the highways parking lots, so many of us trying to find their way back to that place where you are safe and known, that place where they’ll always take you in, home.

Here in the season of festivity and light, it’s probably natural that we don’t think much about how it feels to be a child in a chain link cage, a woman sleeping on concrete, a man denied soap, toothpaste and medicine. In the season of home for the holidays, who wants to be reminded of those who have no home to go to? Of those who are mistreated as a matter of policy by our government? And thus, by us.

We are, in the best of circumstances, a nation of restless, fleeting attentions. And that is all the more true in this era where news bombards us and crises — constitutional, existential — have become routine. So who can be surprised if the images that dominated hearts and headlines just a few months ago — people jammed in pens, families torn apart, a little girl and her father face down in the Rio Grande — have largely receded from the forefront of our thoughts?

We have moved on. But the fact that refugees and immigrants are no longer in the news doesn’t mean they have gone away. It just means we no longer see them. Their plight has become wallpaper.

If you find that unconscionable, especially in this country and especially in this season, there may be consolation in knowing that there are dozens of organizations fighting for them and that many could use your help. Here’s a random sampling:

• Border Angels provides immigrants with legal assistance and English lessons. Its volunteers drive and hike into the rugged desert along the southern border to leave life-saving water for immigrants. Donate at borderangels.org. You can also volunteer through the website, or by emailing volunteer@borderangels.org.

• The Justice Department has compiled a directory (justice.gov/eoir/probono/states.htm) of lawyers willing to do pro bono work for immigrants. If you are an attorney who’d like to be in it, call 703-756-8020 or sent an email to: ProBono.List.Admin@usdoj.gov.

• The Immigrant Rights Project of the ACLU educates immigrants on their legal protections and fights for those rights in court. You can donate by phone at 888-567-ACLU or online at aclu.org.

Want more? The Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, maintains an index (acf.hhs.gov/orr/state-programs-annual-overview) of groups and the kind of assistance they need. Be sure to check out any organization you’re thinking of helping with Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) which evaluates charities for reliability. Note that some groups — Better Angels is one — are too small to qualify for a listing.

The evil — and the word is apropos — being done in our name at the border depends for its success on our willingness to watch in compliant silence as fellow human beings are “otherized” and “monsterized,” stripped of their individuality, remade in the image of American fears.

Which rebukes both the gospels and simple human decency. Any time is a good time — and this season is better than most — to reject that rejection, to embrace all that we have in common as fellow travelers in this difficult life. How can we be strangers? We’re all trying to find that place where we are safe and known.

All of us, just trying to get home.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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