As the nation celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, you would have thought that all of America had been in support of Martin and the Marchers. You almost forget that the “I Have a Dream” speech was, in reality, a nightmare to most Americans in 1963. The gains of the civil rights moment were only secured by massively disrupting a passive society. Yes, fifty years can make us forget how much America hated the Civil Rights Movement, and how most of America was on the wrong-side of justice and history, in this critical moment. Today, much of the USA is again on the wrong-side.
Definitely, there are civil rights gains in various segments of society, and many state that this issue, or that issue is the “civil rights issue” of our time. While I don’t contest these claims, I also believe that the an urgent and yet unpopular civil rights movement of our era is for immigrants. The civil rights of undocumented immigrants are constantly abused, their human rights are denied. If we consider that there are 11 million undocumented persons living in the USA today, and that many on these have spouses and children who are US citizens, we are talking about 40 million or more people directly impacted by these systematic abuses of rights.
Read the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to glimpse what the clergy and “up-standing” citizens thought about the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. It is a beautiful example of Martin Luther King’s persuasive logic. He is addressing clergy and other civic leaders who passively claimed to be supportive of the issues yet were actively critical of the movement. In addressing their complaints King wrote: “ You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws.” He also addressed the complaints that timing of the protests was poor, the need to wait, and to allow the political processes to solve the problems rather than resorting to non-violent protests that were “disruptive to society” King argued that there are just and unjust laws, and that “…one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”
Today the language around undocumented immigrants mirrors the attitudes of 50 years ago. Like then, people are quick to defend laws that are indefensible and blame the victims for their condition. While today no-one would publicly defend the segregation laws that were common in the south in the 50’s and 60’s, people defend the equally faulty laws of immigration that separate families, stereotype Latinos, and utilize ethnic hate and fear for political gains.
The broken immigration system creates a class of people who are forced to live in fear and are unable to participate fully in American society in which they are significant economic and social contributors. The broken immigration system has created a whole economy based on the incarceration and detention of immigrant workers whose only crime is trying to provide for their families (here and in their home countries). The broken immigration system penalizes people for doing what our marketplace rewards and society desires. Our broken laws penalize people in other nations for our government’s exploitation of their land.
I believe one day our children and grandchildren will look at us and say, “How could you limit people’s rights, just because of where they were born?” just as we now look at our grandparents and say. “how could you limit people’s rights just because of the color of their skin.” Significant immigration reform is needed NOW. Just as broad-based civil-disobedience was required in forcing the hand of politicians in bringing the end of segregation and racist laws so to it may be required to end decades of abuse on families trapped in situations which have no good legal remedy and leave them without basic civil and human rights.