For years, advocates for asylum seekers have been discussing the degradation of our nation’s immigration system: Due process protections have been eroded (or eliminated), non-violent aliens have been detained (sometimes for years), and asylum applicants and other immigrants have been subject to humiliating and cruel treatment. Why should this be so? Our immigration laws and our Constitution are far from perfect, but they provide certain rights to non-citizens, including the right to due process of law, the right not to be denied immigration benefits for reasons that are arbitrary and capricious, and the right to humanitarian protection for those who qualify. Unfortunately, the government often fails to fulfill its obligations (repeat: obligations) under the law, and as a result, immigrants are being denied their rights–including their right to life-saving humanitarian protection.
Immigrants, of course, are not the only people whose legal rights have been violated by the government. The pattern of mistreating and disenfranchising minority groups goes back to the founding of our country (and before). In many cases, discrimination has been sanctioned by law–against African Americans, Native Americans, Chinese Americans, and women, to name the most obvious groups. Slowly, painfully, over time, laws have changed. The law now provides for much greater equality than it did at the founding of our Republic, and in practice, the situation has improved. But as we know, there is much more work to be done.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a part of that work. All Americans should listen to what BLM has to say. Even those who disagree or who think they know better should listen to the lived experience of people who feel threatened by our government. No Americans should have to feel this way. Something clearly needs to change. But why should immigrants and asylum seekers care?
For one thing, many immigrants are people of color, and so the issues BLM is addressing should be of concern to non-citizens, who might one day face similar problems themselves.
Also, when the government mistreats one minority group, no minority group is truly safe. If the government has the power and the willingness to take away rights for one of us, it can take away the rights of any of us. Indeed, the whole idea of “rights” is that they are inviolable; the government cannot take them away unless we are afforded due process of law. When a government agent kills an unarmed Black man without justification or when it deports an asylum seeker without due process of law, it is violating those people’s sacrosanct rights. It stands to reason then, that if we wish to support the rights of one person, we must support the rights of all.
The above arguments are based on self interest (I will help you because it helps me). But there is another reason for immigrants to support the BLM movement–it is the right thing to do. The asylum seekers and immigrants that I have known tend to be very patriotic people. They believe in the American ideal. That is why they came here in the first place. Part of that ideal is that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. No group should face harm or discrimination due to their race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation. It is un-American. And it is wrong. As citizens (or would-be citizens), it is incumbent upon each of us to help our nation move towards a more perfect union.
So what can be done to help?
Education: Learn about BLM’s goals and methods from leaders of the movement, rather than from secondary sources. Good starting points are the Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives websites. There are also many movies, documentaries, and books that are worth checking out.
Protest: The ongoing protests are important, and will hopefully drive legislative and policy changes. Non-citizens can attend protests, and have a right to Freedom of Speech, the same as U.S. citizens. However, you should be aware that ICE agents have been deployed in response to protests and civil unrest. While these agents are (supposedly) not tasked with immigration enforcement, that is their raison d’etre, and so if you go to a protest, make sure to have evidence about your immigration status (such as a green card, work permit, I-94, filing receipt, etc.). If you have no status, make sure to have a plan in place in case you are detained (every non-citizen without status should have such a plan, whether or not they attend a protest).
Elections: As President Obama recently said, we have to mobilize to raise awareness and we have to vote for candidates who will enact reform. Non-citizens cannot vote. Indeed, such people can be deported for voting. So if you are not a U.S. citizen, please don’t try to vote. But this does not mean that you cannot participate in the upcoming elections. There is a lot you can do: Voter registration, canvasing, text-banking, phone-banking, etc. All this is important, as the outcome of the election will have life and death consequences for many people.
Contact Your Representatives: There is currently a bill pending in the House to condemn police brutality and racial profiling. The bill makes some good suggestions, including that the Justice Department should take a more active role investigating instances of police violence and discrimination, and for the creation of civilian review boards to provide community-based oversight of local police departments. Review the bill, and if you are so moved, contact your Congressional representatives and let them know. There is another bill pending in the Senate that aims to prevent discrimination by police and provide additional training. You can contact your Senators about this bill. Also, you can take action at the state and local level to push for reform.
Donate: For many of us, money is tight these days, but if you are able to make a donation, there are many worthy civil rights organizations that could use the support.
One last point, and I think this is important, as I often hear objections about BLM in the media and in conversation: It is not necessary to support every aspect of a movement in order to support that movement. I personally do not support all the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. I do not support all their tactics, and I do not support all their rhetoric. This does not mean that I do not support the movement. I strongly believe that our country should focus far less on incarceration and far more on providing opportunities for all people to live safe, healthy, and productive lives. I also strongly believe that our country has not properly reconciled with its past and ongoing sins against African Americans and other racial minorities. Most of all, I believe that our nation has an obligation to listen to marginalized people and to respond to their needs. Thus, even if you do not believe in all aspects of BLM, I do not think that absolves you from listening to members of that movement and of working for a better society. All of us have an obligation to help bend the arc of history towards Justice. The Black Lives Matter movement is doing just that, and its success is our nation’s success.