Much has changed in the United States since I arrived as an immigrant from war-torn Vietnam in 1975. While much of that change is good, I find myself sometimes disheartened by today’s response to immigrants and immigration issues compared to when I arrived.
I was fortunate that, when I arrived in the US, the country overall was very welcoming; the people that helped us and sponsored us did so genuinely out of the kindness of their hearts. I think this country can still be like that—and in many cases, it is—but it’s difficult not to get discouraged when one hears the rhetoric that exists around immigration today.
Immigration is, of course, not a single or simple issue. It’s not something we at the BBA, or any one person or organization, can fix overnight. But at the BBA, we are in the unique position to address these issues from multiple directions. We have the resources to educate, to advocate, and to support others doing the same.
Through our educational programming, we can inform the legal and greater communities as to what these issues really are, from treatment of undocumented immigrants to the lengthy—and often delay-plagued—process of acquiring that documentation and eventually becoming a legal citizen. We can advocate—whether on a local, state, or even national level—for policy changes and enforcement that live up to the ideals set forth in the BBA’s Immigration Principles. That advocacy has, in recent months, included statements on the situation that unfolded on Martha’s Vineyard in September 2022, as well as comments on the Biden administration’s new asylum rules proposed in February of this year.
I encourage you all to familiarize yourselves with those principles, which state that, “No person’s rights or human dignity should be devalued on the basis of immigration or citizenship status,” and conclude that, “As lawyers, and as a Bar Association, it is our special calling, privilege, and obligation to be vigilant guardians of the rule of law, and to ensure that it protects all people to whom it extends—including all immigrants—when their rights are under attack.”
As BBA President, I also encourage all our members to stand up and get involved, however you can. Look for opportunities through the BBA or on your own to step up and do the right thing. We are blessed, not only as a country but as an organization, with both the resources and the wherewithal to help address some of these long-standing immigration issues. With 16,000 members and an alumni group that spans the legal and business landscape throughout Boston and beyond—including within the highest levels of state and city government—we have an opportunity to wield our collective influence, and we should take advantage of that. This is true not only of our more senior and experienced members, but also of our up-and-coming generation of younger attorneys and law students, who already have such a proclivity for focusing on social issues and a true desire to not only do well in their legal careers, but to do good.
We also know, however, that we cannot accomplish all we set out to alone. This is, in part, why the Boston Bar Foundation also works to support organizations working on the behalf of our immigrant neighbors, such as Rian Immigrant Center, PAIR, Project Citizenship, and others around the city and throughout the Commonwealth. While we seek to change systems, these great organizations continue to make an impact on countless individuals victimized by our current landscape.
When my family and I arrived from Vietnam in 1975, we did so seeking a better life and greater opportunities to be our best selves. Through the kindness of local citizens, and the aid of local governments, we were able to do that. Today’s immigrants—no matter from where they originate or how they get here—are seeking the same. We have the opportunity, and the obligation—as an association, a city, a state, and a country as a whole—to do the right thing and continue to fight for those who too often have no voice with which to fight themselves.
Chinh H. Pham