MLK and the Dream for Immigrant Rights

On the 81st birthday of Dr. King, Jr., over 6000 immigrants are taking the oath to become newly naturalized American citizens in his honor.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a day when people would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. While we now have our first Black President in the White House, who has been said to “run from race like a black man runs from a cop,” the United States of America is in the midst of a dramatic demographic transformation that is not welcomed by everyone.

Nativists and anti-immigrants fear the “browning of America” — a phenomena that has law enforcement criminalizing immigrants on one hand and growing hate crimes against Latinos on another. When backed into a corner, they are also quick to point out how undocumented immigrants hurt African American workers, a myth that the Black Alliance for Just Immigration is working hard to dispel. Of course, nativists are not concerned about the rights and economic conditions of African Americans. They are more concerned with “dismantling civil rights, limiting citizenship, and redefining our national identity,” everything that we must stand up against.

Reverend Jesse Jackson recently invoked the memory of King at an immigration reform event, stating that “his fight was for immigration reform.” Dr. King, Jr. believed that African-Americans and poor immigrants had a lot in common. Indeed, instead of fighting over a small piece of the pie, we have to either expand the pie or just take over the bakery.

Perhaps, one of the most crucial lessons for immigrant rights comes to us in “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which King wrote after one of his arrests for civil disobedience. In his letter, Dr. King Jr. wrote that “one has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

A broken and unworkable immigration system in the face of bad economic and living conditions leaves many immigrants with no other option but to live and work in the United States without proper legal documents. Of course, this comes with a penalty that Dr. King Jr. also fully realized in his letter, a penalty that we are currently fighting against for immigrants like Anees Sous, but one that must ultimately be dealt with — by realizing that the system is broken, and that this country needs to legalize the 11.8 million immigrants living in the shadows for the good of everyone.

After all, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Most of us have a mutual destiny as the fabric that binds the United States of America together, and we must work together to once again become a nation of immigrants and a nation of workable laws that most can respect.

Photo Credit: Gilkata

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