A wise man once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” As the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. changed the hearts and minds of the American people and is rightfully lauded as one of the most important figures in modern history. Once again, we are confronted with a new Civil Rights Movement to resist a government that looks to rob people of opportunity and criminalize their existence. Once again, the stakes are extremely high.
We are confronted today with the tragic reality that undocumented young people who were once protected by the DACA program are now at risk of expulsion from the only home they have ever known.
These are people who came here as children and have been here for the last two decades. Some did not even know they were born in another country until they applied for a driver’s license as teenagers. They identify with American life just like any citizen. Their life experience is no less qualified, and no less deserving.
To prevent their expulsion and protect their place in our country, American citizens need to step forward and act boldly on the right side of history: the side of justice. The opposite has been the case far too often: supporters staying at home while opponents work aggressively to undermine and uproot young immigrants out of American life. Recently, I read a post where a young man bragged about calling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a fellow student at his university, a Dreamer. Crippled with a gut-wrenching sensation, my senses were inflamed by the similarities between this troubled young man and certain horrifying historical figures. Calling ICE to deport a fellow student, a neighbor, or even a stranger, is similar to a Northerner in 1855 calling the police to report a runaway slave. It is similar to Germans in 1939 calling the Nazi Gestapo on their child’s teacher. The term for this is ethnic oppression.
But what inflames me even more, and what Dr. King spoke about vehemently, is complicity. Americans have been complicit too many times throughout the decades, to our own misfortune. “Good” people everywhere have been complicit, allowing unspeakable things to occur. These so-called “good” people allowed Japanese Americans to be rounded up like cattle and sent to internment camps because of their ethnic origins. They allowed Black Americans to be sold on butcher’s blocks to the highest bidder. They allowed Native Americans to march on the Trail of Tears to die. They allowed corruption, pain, and injustice to thrive.
We need more “good” people to show their goodness not in survey responses and eventual votes, but in actions, by speaking up for those who are voiceless and protecting them from government-authorized discrimination. Abolitionists helped usher in the Emancipation Proclamation, not “good” Americans who thought slavery was wrong, but were too cynical or preoccupied to speak out, so they minded their own business instead. Civil rights activists changed segregation laws, not “good” people who thought the cause was just but chose to stay at home and do nothing. So often, Americans reflect on history’s turbulent moments and imagine taking action and joining the fight. They think “if I had lived during that era, I would have…” You would have what? Marched with Dr. King? Prove it.
Now is your chance. NOW IS THE TIME TO STAND WITH THE UNDOCUMENTED COMMUNITY. Now you can prove that you stand and not just sympathize with the right side of history.
Northwestern Law students have put the books aside to advocate for undocumented folks. We passionately alongside the most vulnerable among us. We have dedicated ourselves to providing a platform to a community of people constantly searching for legal relief and navigating an anti-immigrant climate. We write petitions, meet with Congressional aides, call lawmakers, and march in the streets. Because of our privilege and ability to navigate this issue, we are able to take up this burden and carry it in support of others. Our motivation is simple: Undocumented activists have been fighting for their right to exist in our society all their lives. At a time when visibility comes at a risk for Dreamers, the job must fall on Americans with citizenship status to offer themselves: to join the fight and serve as critical allies before time runs out.
If you have the means, can afford the costs, and are not at risk of being detained or deported yourself, now is the time to take action—so that one day, if you have grandchildren, they can proudly talk about you to their teachers and classmates when they read in school about the immigrant rights movement and how it all came to a head at the start of 2018. Now is the time to demand that Congress enact a pathway to citizenship, something that will give undocumented young people a lasting right to step out of the shadows, immersing themselves fully into American life.
Congress has had several opportunities this week to pass a bipartisan bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. They have stalemated, and some members in opposition have declared it is time to move on. But it’s not time to move on. In fact, it is more critical than ever to find a solution. Undocumented folks live in uncertainty every day, and it is imperative for us to continue to fight for their right to exist in our society and step out of the shadows.
Sympathizing is not enough. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to make change. What are you waiting for?
Isabella Aguilar is a second-year student at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Originally from the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, she is a member of the Petitioners Organizing for DACA’s Effective Replacement (PODER) and the Latino Law Students Association (LLSA) at Northwestern University. She is passionate about alleviating systemic oppression and increasing opportunities for low-income communities.