Let me begin by saying that Americans are living in a dangerous time. This danger isn’t new and I have no reason to believe that it will disappear anytime soon. Let me also state our current predicament in the most succinct way possible: this country is today faced with deciding who is American and who is not, who is legal and who is not, who is human and who is not.
In this trying time, the Trump administration has made its position clear and vigilantes of all stripes, many empowered by hateful rhetoric, have made it their responsibility to see their vision through. In response, marches across the nation continue to denounce extremist positions while Antifa conglomerates passionately urge those in their rational mind to resist.
As the storm continues and before it is over, I know many more migrants, including children, will have died — some on their way to the gates of this country and others already under the grasp of the state.
In this storm, the undocumented already in America, which estimates place at eleven million, have no option but to retreat further into the shadows of American cities. Thousands, perhaps millions of businesses from coast to coast rely on their labor yet, at every instance and in every corner, they must still be weary of the state who is relentlessly searching for them. They, more than anyone here, know that their entire life — their home, their work, their family — can, at any point, come to an abrupt end.
This, dear reader, is the tragedy faced by the undocumented today.
The tragedy is that this country — which the undocumented have come to love and treasure and call home — does not feel the same towards them. The tragedy is that even those who arrived as children and who owe this nation their entire identity and who would, and do, die for it, cannot count on it to protect them. The tragedy is that any demand for rights by the undocumented — despite their tremendous contributions to the economy and the billions in taxes they contribute — can lead to imprisonment and deportation, often to countries where they truly are strangers. This tragedy is a fear, constant and relentless, that constraints their behavior, their thoughts, their very dreams.
The reality which this tragedy points to — coupled with the rhetoric that we hear every day — is that this country does not want its undocumented to be human. I know this because I hear and I see and I feel all the caricatures and slurs that Hispanic migrants have to deal with. And I know you do too. Our dehumanization began as soon as the Tejanos and the Californios became Americans and it continued during the major upheavals of this nation. It intensifies when we are undesirables and diminishes when you need our labor, but attempts at dehumanization have always been present.
I want everyone reading this to recall the stereotypes and slurs this country has created for Hispanics. And I want you to think of how easy it was for you to recall them and I want you to ponder the images that you recreate in your mind. When you do, I want you to know that those names and images were not invented by us and they certainly say nothing about any of us. More importantly, ask yourself if the wetback or the spic or the rapist or the animal ever really existed and ask yourself why it was necessary for individuals in this country to create them.
Those reading this who happen to be immigrants or undocumented and who are struggling to find a place in this republic, know that there is another, more dangerous tragedy. The more dangerous tragedy would be to accept the dehumanization of your person. And I urge you to resist. In these trying times, you must remain hopeful and optimistic and continue to dream. This — the immigrant leap of faith — requires that the undocumented and all migrants continue to become educated, contribute to improve our society, and continue believing that one day, you too, will truly belong here.
But those already here also know how difficult life is in this country. Immigrants begin to discover, with great pain, that what they really want is to be themselves, to be free. They begin to discover that this country which prides itself on being the land of the free, does not seem to want freedom for others. This is not an exaggeration. This country has been, from its very founding, making reservations and boarding houses, border agents and detention centers. Freedom has become a matter of keeping every one else out, no matter their torment and regardless if it was caused by this country. And we have the records to prove it: the genocide of the indigenous, the enslavement of Africans, exclusion acts, ships full of Jewish refugees denied on the eve of WWII, and deportation raids that make entire communities tremble to this day. This is our history. It is American history.
And yet, many Americans already established in this land continue to believe that all is fine, that no change is needed. Others believe that a larger, more menacing border wall will make everything better, that it will restore this country to some pristine and innocent past — which I know never existed. But if you could walk even one day in the shoes of the undocumented, you too would feel the disdain and the hatred and the terror. You too would understand that for many, being here is a matter of life or death. You too would feel the fire.
If you still insist that the undocumented be removed because they did not wait their turn in line, I want you to know and admit that none of us are here legally. I want you to know that the Mayflower and the Speedwell and the Discovery were not invited here. I challenge you to explore the records of Ellis Island and find all the ways some of those migrants — who you praise for coming here legally — deceived and bribed and paid their way in because this nation did not want them. And I want you to know that the true inheritors of this land are indigenous. That this land belongs solely to them.
What I am trying to say here is that it is time we decriminalize the undocumented. It is time that we validate their existence and their humanity and recognize that no moral grounds exist on which to deny permanent residency to those already here. I am asking that we begin to see them and accept them and love them as vital members of our economy and society in this great American house. What I am trying to say, to the undocumented now, is that soon this glittering republic will too be your home.