A project of the Center for Community Change

On immigration, follow MLK’s guidance. It’s about human dignity

Yesterday, a powerful editorial appeared in the Houston Chronicle. The author, African-American Reverend Harvey Clemons Jr. talks about educating himself to debunk immigration myths and does it all from the frame of justice and scripture used by Martin Luther King Jr.

I often shy away from immigration reform arguments that name-check MLK Jr. or discuss the movement as the modern day “civil rights” struggle. I am uncomfortable appropriating the work of those who have come before me to define today’s fight. However, I think that this editorial correctly places the crux of both King’s argument and the need for immigration reform on one thing: human dignity.

Though the conversation concerning immigration in America is more ancient than King, King’s vision provides a helpful tool with which to view the immigration struggle today. Immigration is about human dignity…

The Reverend’s own journey from ignorance to education about the issue is a story that must be told more often. The myths surrounding immigration in this country are false, but until we can open more eyes, we won’t be able to open more hearts.

The perception garnered from the media is often that undocumented immigrants simply go around the open door of the legal immigration system, but that morning I learned how an unworkable immigration system closes the vast majority of legal avenues for those who desire to immigrate legally. The perception from the media is often that immigrants do not pay taxes; that morning I learned undocumented workers pay taxes and to a much greater degree than what they consume in our state, with an estimated $400 million surplus. Also, I did not know undocumented immigrants contributed more than $17 billion to our state’s economy, how an enforcement-only policy would cost our economy $651 billion in annual output, or how immigrant parents lived continually under the threat of being separated from their children. For too long, advocates who fear immigrants have acted as the primary molders of our perception concerning immigration, convincing us all too easily that their fears fall in line with reality.

And perhaps most importantly, the Reverend Clemons adeptly weaves the current debate into a broad historic pattern of the struggle for justice.

Listen not to false prophets who wrap their politics around the fear of the immigrant. It is not a new song they sing. In fact, it is eerily similar to the songs sung not too long ago. They sang that slavery was God’s way until that song sounded ridiculous. They altered the song and sang segregation was God’s way until that too sounded ridiculous. Now the song of the false prophets paints the immigrant as a threat to, rather than a pillar of, American society; paints undocumented fathers and mothers working from sunrise to sundown as a drain of our nation’s resources rather than a reminder of our heroic beginnings; and paints immigrant children as a national burden rather than our nation’s blessing.

Recently, my friend took to her Twitter account to summarize just this:

So grateful to be a part of the Immigration Reform movement. What will you tell your children when they ask where YOU stood? [via @NvrComfortable]

For those of you who haven’t chosen a side yet (or those of you who know someone who hasn’t), I suggest  reading the Reverend’s full article. Then, educate yourself. For all the complexity of the immigration issue, your stance on it should be simple: its about human dignity

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