Wednesday, March 24, 2010

No Human Being is Illegal

The drums playing behind us drowned out the speakers, but it didn't matter. Vitality, vibrancy just swept through the mass of activists on the mall before Congress, and we were all affirming, "Sí se puede!" There were so many people of all ages, races, nationalities, abilities, sexualities--- immigration is an issue that touches us all, whether or not we acknowledge it. And, as Christians who believe in a Christ who breaks down boundaries, we are called to speak for immigration reform.

I keep coming back to the story of Hagar. The name Hagar means The Alien--- not just alien, but The Alien. Her story is like that of so many immigrant women, forced to offer her body to her oppressors. Here, she becomes the wife of her mistress's husband, only to be used for her reproductive labor and thrown away when she and her son can be constructed as threats by her jealous, fearful mistress. That is the experience of The Alien: she is disposable even after she has labored for her oppressors, given of her own body. And then she is cast out. In the USA, our economic and immigration policies require the use, abuse, and ultimate disposal of immigrants within our country. As a Christian, I reject these policies, opting instead for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform.

I walked with a group of beautiful people from church in Georgetown to the Mall for the march on March 21, our signs under our arms gearing up to agitate. We stopped to let some in our group get lunch, standing outside to enjoy the beautiful day. A man walked past us, read our signs and then said, "I have no problem with immigration as long as it's done legally. I have dual citizenship with Ireland and am working on my third. Legally immigrating is not that hard!" I want to point out that he did not stop walking when he said this. He continued to walk past us, denying us a space in which to dialogue with him, though my friends did try. It was another reminder of lengths at which those of us who are from privileged communities defend our ignorance. We live in a culture that fosters this ignorance, these myths and lies we tell ourselves to keep ourselves from action.

Though I have only begun the project of educating myself about immigration, I have learned that legally immigrating is indeed difficult, if not impossible. I have heard people talk about their birth countries, listened to them tell me about the beauty of their homes. Yet they had no real choice: is there a choice to be made between starvation and immigration?

One of the biggest problems in this immigration debate is that, like the man who talked at (and not to) us in the street, we do not understand our own culpability. We, those of us with privilege, tell ourselves that we just need to figure out how to help better the economy "down there" (in the Southern hemisphere) so people can stay in their homes. We forget our own culpability in this system of illegal immigration. We forget/deny how our government policies like NAFTA redirect the wealth of Mexico into the pockets of the USA and Canada. We forget/deny how we demand cheap labor. Our own policies have created this situation.

So as part of my journey to educate myself, I became an advocate for immigration reform, leading me to the march on Sunday. I stood with people of faith for immigration reform, holding signs that said "Dignity not Detention," "Reform not Raids," and "No Person is Illegal," adding my voice to the shout of "Sí se puede!" This is where I saw Christ moving: in the voices demanding that all peoples' humanity is honored.

As we walked away from the mass of people, heading back home, we passed as some people sang and danced, others rested from a long day standing in the sun under trees that had only begun to bud. But I think many of us felt energized by the presence of so many people coming together to advocate for human dignity. So the next step for us is to hold ourselves and our leaders, our faith leaders and political leaders, accountable to pass humane immigration reform that keeps families together.

Cross posted at the Beatitudes Society.