A demonstration

This past weekend I had the pleasure of taking part in a demonstration against the border wall here in Brownsville, TX. We stood on the international bridge, straddling the rio and the imaginary border between these two nations, protesting a law which would build a wall of division right here.

Admittedly, it was exhilarating to stand out in the sun in an effort to bring light to the countless tangible dilemmas with such a wall and the few intangible, unrealistic benefits which are touted by this effort. It is always envigorating to gather together; the Bible was right in saying that, “wherever two or more are gathered together in my name, there I will be.” There is an electric energy, and it was certainly felt this Saturday as held hands and signs of “No Border Wall; No al Muro.”

I was even moved enough to speak at the aftermath rally at UTB. While my comments were brief, rambling, and unprepared, my soul was pricked for the issue of citizenship. Yet I was troubled by the disorganized nature of the rally, the gungho support of everything and yet nothing well. This protest, like so many others, had its hangers-on, those outliers who are out for a revolution for revolutions’ sake, the individuals that would stir no one if they were imprisoned, however unjustly they cried it to be. King and Gandhi would have looked askance at the divided nature of the group, the multitudonous cacophony of words and concerns which distracted from the main issue at hand. The gathering eventually fizzled out, having said some important things which were lost amidst so many off-track hoorahing. One cannot be civilly disobedient in everything, or else no one knows where the protest lies…

Still, as the third week of school begins with my ESL students, the idea of citizenship looms ever more on my imagination as the way in which the United States can alleviate much of the touted problems with illegal immigrants in this country. It is infinitely hard for me to look at juniors and seniors who have labored four or five years to get a decent education, who have never revisited family or friends in Mexico for fear of being unable to reenter the country, who have dreams of college and yet cannot secure citizenship because it is based not on merit but on a blind lottery, not on earned rights but on birthright.

It is lunacy that ours, a country built on the work of hard-working immigrants from a host of other nations should base its constitution of a legal, voting citizen on the birthright of that individual. In essence, this was what Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about when he preached equality for all, regardless of the race, gender, or culture to which they were born. Let us now add to that nationality. It is just as bigoted and backwards to base citizenship on a person’s birthplace as it is to base it on their birth-race. The plethora of hard-working, diversifying foreign-born sons and daughters “illegally” living here or struggling to gain citizenship here deserve these inalienable rights as much, if not more, than the man or woman born here consuming yet not contributing to the brotherhood of this land.

We must redefine the very idea of a citizen, for it is not patriots or predecessors who create true citizens, but a genuine willingness to contribute to this community, an eagerness for education…. No one in this country should study here for 5 years and be denied a college education because they do not bear the trite title of American citizen. What hypocrites we are, to turn away an educated voter from becoming a legal citizen! Our country cannot continue to be great if it, in and of itself, does not greet globalization with the arms it must. There must be means provided for illegal immigrants within our coutnry to work towards citizenship and there must be more precise qualifications for incoming immigrants. This would not decrease the number of new citizens in this country, but it would greatly bolster the number of new citizens actively pursuing education, meaningful work, and a voting democratic community.

The best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend – that is the message of love, the heart of the Gospel, the lifeblood of nonviolence. Granting citizenship to residents willing to work towards it will truly strengthen our country, dispel any supposed security risk, and make it that much easier to pinpoint those few residents living in the United States who do not actually wish to become citizens.

As I return to school tomorrow, I will again teach my students irregardless of their citizenship status, irregardless of their birthplace, without thought of the language or religion or culture spoken at home. I wish there was some way to invite the American government into my class, into every class in a border town, to see the almost effortless ways their immigration worries have already been solved.

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