A Call to Put an End to Inhumane Conditions at the Border

A Call to Put an End to Inhumane Conditions at the Border

A Call to Put an End to Inhumane Conditions at the Border

An open letter by Ariel Dorfman, Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Byrne, Neil Gaiman, Khaled Hosseini, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Wayétu Moore, Reza Aslan, and more.


Dozens of immigrant/refugee authors—novelists, narrators, poets, memoirists, Pulitzer Prize winners, Oprah’s Book Club selections, and bestsellers from five continents—urge Congress to address the atrocities happening on America’s southern border.

Dear Members of the United States Congress:

We, like many of our fellow Americans, are appalled by the inhumane conditions in detention centers for asylum seekers at our southern border. The reports of death, abuse, overcrowding, untreated illness, malnutrition, and lack of basic hygiene are abhorrent, especially since many of those affected are children.

We appeal to you as published authors who are also immigrants and/or refugees. Many of us came to the U.S. as children and shudder to think how this country would treat us now. As such, we urge you to take immediate steps to rectify the atrocious conditions for asylum seekers being detained today.

The past three years have compelled millions of Americans, and many of our civic institutions, to reaffirm that this country remains the land of immigrants. People across the U.S. stood up to protest the White House’s refugee bans; faith leaders opened their communities to aid asylum seekers; local, municipal and state governments and the judicial branch exercised their powers to uphold and defend immigrant rights. Congress must act as well.

Many of you have defended immigrants and refugees with righteous eloquence, invoking our nation’s past and cherished symbols such as the Statue of Liberty. As writers, we appreciate the sublime power of words. But as immigrants, we also remember the brutal reality: when you’re walking in a strange land, herded by strange men who speak in strange tongues, when you’re stripped of basic human needs, when you’re hungry, cold and helpless, words aren’t enough.

We urge Congress to use its appropriation power to direct the following actions:

(1) Immediately direct all resources necessary to shelter migrants with decency and dignity by providing them access to medical care, nutrition and hygiene;

(2) Reverse the massive backlogs in the immigration justice system by allocating resources for judges to hear cases efficiently, with due process, as well as strengthening legal orientation to ensure every person understands every step of their proceedings;

(3) Forbid tax dollars from being spent on forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico or other unsafe third countries where they face danger;

(4) Reestablish safe and legal channels for migrants by tying immigration enforcement spending to the reopening of legal channels for migrants fleeing persecution and reversing the White House’s evisceration of the refugee resettlement program.

Polls show that the vast majority of Americans are horrified by the suffering unfolding in the camps. We call on you to leverage that public support to meet our moral obligations by ensuring those held by our own government receive elementary necessities like sanitation supplies and access to medical and legal personnel.

We remember well the experience of utter paralysis that’s part of nearly every immigrant’s journey: of standing before the US immigration system, praying to not be found wanting.

Today, those enduring unspeakable conditions at our border are praying, just as we once prayed, when it was our turn. They may be praying to a different god, or different gods or different entities, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is that the power to address their prayers lies with you, the United States Congress.

Please, do not let them go unheeded.

Respectfully yours,

Alex Abramovich, writer

D.M. Aderibigbe, poet

Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny, novelist and professor, The University of Texas at El Paso

Sharbari Zohra Ahmed, author and screenwriter

Yelena Akhtiorskaya, author

Isabel Allende, author, journalist, and human rights activist

Julissa Arce, author and immigrant advocate

Lesley Nneka Arimah, author

Mohammed AL Samawi, author and interfaith activist

Reza Aslan, author, commentator, professor, and producer

Polina Barskova, poet and professor, Hampshire College

Ishmael Beah, author and human rights advocate

Sayu Bhojwani, author, immigrant rights advocate and political entrepreneur

Livia Blackburne, author

Thi Bui, cartoonist

Gabriel Byrne, actor, director, producer, and cultural ambassador

James Cañón, author

Lan Cao, author and professor, Chapman University

Mona Chalabi, data editor and data illustrator

Ruth Chan, author and illustrator

Sasha Chanoff, author and founder and executive director, RefugePoint

Angana Chatterji, scholar, University of California Berkeley

Anelise Chen, novelist, essayist, and professor, Columbia University

Don Mee Choi, poet

René Colato Laínez, children’s book author and bilingual educator

Carolina De Robertis, translator and professor, San Francisco State University

Nicole Dennis-Benn, author  

Alex Dimitrov, poet and professor, Princeton University

Ariel Dorfman, author, playwright, essayist, and professor, Duke University

Firoozeh Dumas, author, speaker and screenwriter

Anita Felicelli, author

Boris Fishman, author, journalist, and professor, Princeton University

Marc Fleurbaey, author and professor, Princeton University

Parnaz Foroutan, writer

Neil Gaiman, author, screenwriter, director, producer, and activist

Cristina García, novelist

Keith Gessen, author

Peter Godwin, author, journalist, screenwriter and filmmaker

Lev Golinkin, author and journalist

Johannes Göransson, poet, translator and professor, University of Notre Dame

Reyna Grande, author and inspirational speaker

Roy Guzmán, poet

Caroline Hadilaksono, illustrator and author

Roya Hakakian, author, poet, and journalist

Tayyaba Hasan, author

Maeve Higgins, author, comedian and actor

Abeer Y. Hoque, writer and photographer

Khaled Hosseini, author, physician and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

Matt Huynh, comic artist

Alta Ifland, writer and literary translator

Abdi Nor Iftin, author and interpreter

Ha Jin, poet, novelist and professor, Boston University

Jaroslav Kalfar, author

Ilya Kaminsky, poet, critic, translator, and professor, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts

Porochista Khakpour, author

Sorayya Khan, author

Gelare Khoshgozaran, author, artist and visiting professor, University of California Los Angeles

Angie Kim, author and essayist

Suki Kim, author, novelist and investigative journalist

Amitava Kumar, author, journalist, and professor, Vassar College

Min Jin Lee, novelist and writer-in-residence, Amherst College

Yiyun Li, author, editor and professor, Princeton University

Olga Livshin, poet and translator

Valeria Luiselli, author

Ash Mayfair, writer and director

Imbolo Mbue, author

Colum McCann, author; member, American Academy of Arts; and professor, Hunter College

Yamile Saied Méndez, author

Dinaw Mengestu, author and professor, Bard College

Maaza Mengiste, author and professor, Hunter College and Princeton University

María Mínguez Arias, author

Wayétu Moore, author; memoirist; journalist; founder, One Moore Book; and lecturer, City University of New York’s John Jay College

Paul Muldoon, poet and professor, Princeton University

Meera Nair, author

Azar Nafisi, author and scholar

Dina Nayeri, author, essayist and fellow, Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination

Hoa Nguyen, poet

Viet Thanh Nguyen, novelist and professor, University of Southern California

Achy Obejas, writer and translator

Aline Ohanesian, author

Eugene Ostashevsky, poet, translator and professor, New York University

Gerardo Pacheco Matus, poet and professor, Cañada College

Saleem Peeradina, poet, essayist and professor emeritus, Siena Heights University

Bao Phi, poet, essayist, spoken word artist, and community activist

Garry Pierre-Pierre, photographer; founder and publisher, The Haitian Times; and professor, Brooklyn College

Jyoti Puri, author and professor, Simmons University

Grace Loh Prasad, writer and essayist

Mahmud Rahman, writer and translator

Mónica Ramón Ríos, writer and scholar

Vaddey Ratner, novelist

Sughra Raza, physician and author

Carolina Rivera Escamilla, author, director, theater actor, and producer

Fariha Róisín, author, editor, poet, podcaster, and writer-at-large/culture editor, The Juggernaut

Ingrid Rojas Contreras, novelist, essayist, and professor, University of San Francisco

Abbigail Rosewood, novelist

Cecilia Ruiz, author and illustrator

Salman Rushdie, novelist and essayist

Roshni Rustomji-Kerns, author and editor

Beena Sarwar, writer, editor and journalist

Sehba Sarwar, author and poet

haitali Sen, author

Akhil Sharma, author and professor, Rutgers University

Moazzam Sheikh, author, translator, educator and librarian

Gary Shteyngart, author

Nikesh Shukla, author, editor and podcaster

Shahzia Sikander, artist

Jim St. Germain, author, social entrepreneur, presidential appointee, and co-founder, Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow, Inc.

Jess X. Snow, artist, filmmaker and poet

Dalia Sofer, author

Art Spiegelman, cartoonist and editor

Banu Subramaniam, author, editor, and professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sara Suleri Goodyear, author and professor emeritus, Yale University

Chimene Suleyman, poet, writer, editor, and spoken word performer

Shilpi Suneja, writer

Meredith Talusan, author and journalist

Diep Tran, editor and journalist

Vu Hoang Tran, novelist and professor, University of Chicago

Natalia Treviño, poet and author

Monique Truong, author, lyricist/librettist, and essayist

Genya Turovskaya, poet, translator and psychotherapist

Anya Ulinich, novelist, graphic novelist, and short story writer

Liliana Valenzuela, translator, poet, journalist and essayist

Ocean Vuong, poet, author, essayist and professor, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Sholeh Wolpé, poet, writer, literary translator, and inaugural author in residence, UCLA

Fan Wu, writer and translator

Rafia Zakaria, author, columnist, book critic, and resident scholar, The City College of New York

Reema Zaman, author, actress, activist, screenwriter and speaker

Javier Zamora, poet

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