For the People–This is America

I haven’t been able to find this clip from last week’s episode of legal drama For the People or been able to rip it legally. But it’s such a powerful speech that I believe speaks to the frustration and the realizations many of us are experiencing right now in regards to our country’s stance on immigration, that I decided to transcribe it. I’m a sucker for a good speech, and this is a great one.  If you can get it on demand or have it recorded, the exchange begins at about 53 minutes into Episode Two of Season Two.  

It’s a discussion between court clerk Tina Krissman (played by the great Anna Deavere Smith) and young defense attorney Jay Simmons (played by Wesam Keesh) after they’ve spent the entire episode trying to protect a young immigrant boy from being separated from his undocumented father and being placed in a detention center. It looks as if they’re about to lose this battle.

Jay: I don’t understand what is happening here. What country is this?

Tina: This is America.

Jay: This is not the America I know. When I came here with my family, we had nothing and we struggled. But we built a life here and we were welcome here. For years, my dad kept this little picture of Ronald Reagan above our kitchen table with these quotes from him about immigrants:

These families came here to work. They came to build. They brought with them courage and ambition and the values of family.

Ronald Reagan

That is the America I know.

I am an immigrant. I am the child of immigrants. We were welcome here.

Kris: And today you probably wouldn’t be.

This is America.

It expands, and it contracts.

Advances and recedes.

Opens and closes.

This is a country birthed on freedom and built on slavery.

Separating families…they separated black slave families in America for 250 years.

What makes this feel so bad now, is that we expect more. And that’s a good thing.

This pain is progress, but do not forget who we are and where we came from

I do not forget where I came from.

I grew up in West Baltimore around the corner from where Justice Marshall grew up. This Justice Marshal. He knew my father. He stood in my living room. The elementary school I went to, Mount Royal, I went to because of him. [Anna Deavere Smith really did grow up in Baltimore and started elementary school right after the city integrated]  I’m here (looks around courthouse) because of him. He was the grandson of a slave, and he changed American law. He changed the very idea of the constitution! He made a document that considered him three-fifths of a man a document of liberation.

This is the America I know.

The beacon and the curse.

Light and darkness.

Hope and despair.

This is America right now.

But…America never ends


Gracious God, may we never forget the children who are separated from their families or cease in our efforts to reunite them. Help our country to keep going, to be more than we are now, to be better to all of your children. We’re still going and growing. Guide us, encourage us, drag us if you have to in Your way. Amen.

BTW: For those of you who don’t know her, Anna Deavere Smith is kind of a big deal. She’s a Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright. A twice Tony-nominated actress. A 1996 recipient of the McArthur Genius Award. A professor at Stanford and (currently) NYU. She got skills.


Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Doubting Believer is a progressive and inclusive community of Christians. Follow us on Facebook, sign up for emails or learn more about our member group.

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