Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights Movement’

Bring me your Tired, Dame Sus Pobres

March 29, 2008

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”

 

    Emma Lazarus put these words on the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, years before it would become the beacon of hope which drew over 12 million immigrants to Ellis Island. Despite the fact that Lady Liberty and Ellis Island are now only museums, 12 million men, women, and children today are within our borders, floating on the sea of insecurity that comes without papers. They came from war-ravaged lands, they came to give their children hope, they overstayed visas in attempts to get a job deserving of their education, they came to work menial manual labor jobs because it represented the first rung on the Ladder of American Dreams. They came because they heard Emma Lazarus’s words in their own language, calling them to come to the United States.

 

    The sad thing, though, is that too many corrupt individuals are also voicing these words. Coyotes on our southern border are whispering “Dame sus Cansados, dame sus Pobres.” Too many American employers send recruiters to equate the American promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” with the underpaid, overworked conditions in their factories and fields. Countless individuals without scruples see these people without papers as easy targets for bribery, coercion, and corruption.

 

    A headline in the Brownsville Herald yesterday stated that over 20 immigrants were hurled from the back of a pickup truck in an accident on March 27 near La Joya, Texas. Three men and women were killed when the F-150 wrecked. The driver, as usual, fled the scene and is probably whispering his smuggler’s promises to a new batch of hopeful Americalmosts.

 

    It is vital that our nation begin to shift its treatment of extralegal immigrants from one of a “lawbreaker” to one of “victim.” The same shift happened in the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King did not overcome segregation despite his jail sentences; John Lewis did not lead students to prisons across the South by accident. No, the breaking of these unjust laws was vital to the Civil Rights Movement because it highlighted the fact that these men and women were victims not violent criminals. As Thoreau so eloquently wrote back in 1849, “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (Civil Disobedience). If virtuous men and women are being punished for living on the other side of a law, the American public must come to the realization that this law must be changed.

    Extralegal residents, and those who might currently be contemplating a risky transaction with a coyote smuggler because the waiting list for citizenship is 10 years long and growing, do not break the law because they have no respect for America, no respect for the Border Patrol or our polices, no respect for our way of life. In fact, they are coming to America precisely because they honor these traditions and institutions of ours. No, if and when they break laws in order to become residents of this great nation, they are doing it only because they cannot recognize the validity, Justice, or Morality of a broken immigration system.

    We must push our nation’s leaders to return to the Table of Immigration Reform which they were seated at two years ago. We must charge them to strike the Secure Fence Act, the only piece of legislation to emerge from those talks. We must call for them to dialogue seriously about real immigration reform so there will be no more immigrants thrown from the backs of pickup trucks, no more residents coerced into corruption in hopes of a green card, no more victims at the hands of our unresponsive immigration laws. The time for change must be now – it is far too late to dismantle Lady Liberty and that poem on which she stands.

Liberty in Court Cartoon

Unjust Laws Create Both Criminals and Victims

March 22, 2008

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” (Why We Can’t Wait 82)

    Martin Luther King’s differentiation of just and unjust laws was used in the civil rights movement to condone the breaking of Jim Crow laws which were perpetuating immoral segregation. Our nation’s current immigration laws, which themselves hinder real integration for at least 4% of our resident population. Just as in the civil rights movement and today’s unresponsive immigration laws, unjust legislation creates criminals out of moral men and women.

    Another important distinction, however, is that unjust laws create victims and victimizers. With more than 12 million people currently living on the other side of our nation’s immigration laws, more than half of whom have just overstayed visas, corruption and victimization are rampant. A New York Times article which ran yesterday detailed the sad story of several women who have been subjected to rape and sexual assault in hopes of procuring the ever-elusive Green Card. Nina Bernstein writes, “..it raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.” (Bernstein, Nina “An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex” New York Times: Mar. 21, 2008. ) The chilling reality is that these sobering tales of corruption in low-level immigration positions belie the thousands and potentially millions of similar stories where people without rights, recourse, and protection of the law are taken advantage of by citizens, most of whom are legal through no merit beyond their birthplace.

    Gone unchecked, this long victimization of immigrants has been below the national radar. With nativists calling for massive deportation, which would run upwards of $94 billion and shock jocks emphasizing the few extralegal residents who break other laws, the American public has been unaware of the power game going on in immigration agencies, businesses which hire undocumented workers, and in the hearts of normal people who are tempted to profit from the precarious position of these extralegal residents. Bernstein notes that,

Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations. (Bernstein, Nina “An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex” New York Times: Mar. 21, 2008. )

Because unjust laws fly in the face of a higher law, they make a mockery of the Justice which laws are designed to approximate. As a result, the “criminals” created by unjust laws become helpless victims and law-abiding citizens are tempted to use the law to their advantage. Victimized and victim become dehumanized because, as Dr. King stated, unjust laws degrade human personality and make us tend toward the worst in human potential.

    At the risk of alienating some of my Christian brothers and sisters, the parallels between abortion legislation and immigration legislation are haunting and worthy of note. There are two reasons why many Christians, like the revered evangelical author Jim Wallis, are opposed to absolutely overturning Roe v. Wade: 1.) because when abortion becomes illegal, unsafe, makeshift clinics would instantly pop up and endanger the lives of thousands of women; 2.) to ban abortion while not simultaneously increasing welfare and child-care programs would be to sentence these children and their mothers to a bleak future. The main problem with overturning Roe v. Wade, then, would be the resulting victims and victimizers. Jim Wallis, along with many Christians, advocate a pro-life instead of pro-birth stance, by trying to rid the underlying causes of abortion. A simple scan of countries where abortion is illegal, such as Mexico, shows that instead of ending abortion these laws simply mar human rights by making the practice more dangerous and lethal.

    In much the same way, unjust immigration laws like a quota system based on national origin and a lottery system based on mere chance create victims and victimizers. Our country must strive for comprehensive immigration reform so that our laws uplift human personality by granting immigrants and their native neighbors every opportunity to realize their full potential.

America – The Story of Integration

March 21, 2008

    This past week, Obama gave a speech for the ages when he openly confronted the issue of race in a conciliatory fashion. Like him or not, the speech was noteworthy in that it spoke to the future of the United States.  The “more perfect union” he addresses is one in which every little boy and every little girl is afforded the same opportunity to participate in our country’s democracy.  To be successful, we must integrate.

    American history is a long story of integration. Our greatest successes have been ones of inclusion, from Emancipation Proclamation to the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. The most abysmal times in our nation’s history, similarly, have been those times when our nation was most segregated. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese internment camps, Jim Crow Laws, and the long residue of the original sin of slavery are just some examples of the sad moments in our nation’s history when it has refused equal access or equal rights to all its people.

    Our story is one of integration, and it must continue to be so if we are to continue to live up to our moral and social potential. Currently, our country has some 12-20 million people residing and working within our borders who have been refused the rights, protections, and opportunities most basic to the American story. The same individuals decrying these workers’ rights smack of the same rhetoric segregationists employed with chilling effect in the 1950s and 1960s.

    When my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland to these United States, they were greeted by Army recruiters like so many immigrants. The military has always been ready to bestow citizenship on those immigrants who would be willing to die for their newly adopted country. How much more impactful would it be if our nation were to tender the same means to earned citizenship for workers who have been contributing to, but not benefiting from, Social Security and taxes all these years? To truly call ourselves an “integrated” nation, we must move beyond the rhetoric of black and white and extend the discussion to human beings with and without rights.

    Harvard Professor Charles V. Willie once stated that school desegregation was worlds better than it was 50 years ago, but only nominally different than it was 30 years ago. This idea of an unacceptable plateau can be equally applied to the issue of immigration. Our nation’s immigration policies are more just than they were in the 1920s, when nation of origin and the idea of a racial ratio became the measuring device for who could and could not immigrate legally. However, our nation’s current immigration legislation is much more backward, prohibitive, and segregated than it was 150 years ago before nativistic policies began stemming the full integration of immigrants.

    The United States must decide that it has to abolish the class of illegal immigrants, not through massive and fiscally prohibitive deportations but rather through laws which would moralize the quota system, enhance family reunification policies, allow all students to pursue higher education, and extend a means to earned citizenship for our nation’s extralegal working class. Integration must advance from the limited fields of voter rights and school systems to the heart of civil rights, which is equality for all. Dr. King famously stated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” that “Anyone who lives within the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” The civil rights movement of this past century stemmed from the migration of peoples and sought to reconcile their rights. For the sake of American history and our country’s future, we must apply this same reconciliation and extend this same palm branch of redemption to those working families who have migrated or would wish to migrate here. Our future depends on the integration of everyone, the full participation of every resident in the American dream. As Joel Millman writes in his book The Other Americans, “Our future is being born today in a village somewhere far away. Our welfare depends on the quality of our welcome when that future arrives.”