The broken state of the U.S. immigration system is a moral and human-rights crisis, write three guest columnists who staged a civil-disobedience demonstration in Seattle. Time now to fix the system that divides families and makes people live in shadow.
LAST Thursday, the three of us were among a group of 40 people who faced risk of arrest by conducting nonviolent civil disobedience in downtown Seattle.
We were white, brown and black. Some had never before been moved to take this kind of direct action. Our delegation included a Metropolitan King County Council member, several priests, a retired and decorated Navy veteran, workers, labor leaders, professors and students — all uniting around nonviolent civil disobedience. Why?
We have on our hands a moral and human-rights crisis that betrays our nation’s best values.
We were compelled to escalate our call for comprehensive immigration reform. The irresponsible failure to act of members of Congress and presidents, past and present, has led to the current untenable situation: 12 million undocumented immigrants living in fear across the country; 1,000 people deported every day as families are ripped apart; 5 million U.S. citizens or residents who are still waiting, sometimes after decades, after applying legally for their closest family members to join them.
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Over the past decade, we have marched, rallied, met with our Congress members, collected petition signatures, and made thousands of phone calls and faxes. In spite of the numbers of people involved in mass demonstrations that match any social movement in recent history, we are no closer to a real solution.
With the passage of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, the devastating consequences of states and other locales taking immigration policy into their own hands are clear: shattered economies, fearful families and racial profiling of citizens and noncitizens alike.
Clear too is the choice ahead of us as a nation: Racial profiling or immigration reform? Family values or family separation? Sensible solutions or same old politics?
The Obama administration has not only failed to act on immigration reform, it has increased deportations beyond previous administrations, pushing programs such as 287g and Secure Communities that put the enforcement of federal immigration laws in the hands of local police. This shift in long-standing policy, undertaken first by George W. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002, fundamentally undermines community trust in law enforcement.
Meanwhile, even Republicans who supported previous efforts to reform the immigration system have refused to come forward, putting politics over moral conscience.
We can no longer stand by and watch while children go to school not knowing if their parents will be there when they return or while members of our congregations are detained on their way to work.
Thursday, we blocked the entrance and exit to the downtown Seattle building that houses the immigration courts, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office, and Customs and Border Patrol, some of the key agencies that implement the harsh enforcement measures we see today.
Later, we caused disruption by blocking three separate intersections in downtown Seattle. While we were sorry for the inconvenience for those trying to go home or go to work, the reality is that the disruption to the lives of millions of families is far worse — and has no real solution in sight without action.
Although the Seattle Police Department made a determination not to arrest us, we remain committed to continuing to make it very difficult for anyone to ignore the moral crisis we are in. We will continue to escalate our campaign of peaceful civil disobedience in Seattle and across the country. We wish to remind President Obama that (in the words of Thoreau): “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just [person] is … a prison.”
We act out of great love for our country and the belief that our nation is better than this. We hope our actions will catalyze real leadership from Congress and President Obama to stop playing politics and pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.
It is time for every elected leader to choose which side of history they will be on in this struggle for freedom and justice.
We need this — for America.
Larry Gossett is a member of the Metropolitan King County Council; Josefina Beecher is a priest at La Iglesia Episcopal de la Resurrecion; Pramila Jayapal is executive director of OneAmerica.