Author Nekeisha Alayna Alexis wrote and shared excerpts from a statement for the May 1, 2017 for the A Day Without Immigrants rally in downtown Elkhart, Indiana. This is her final, edited version for publication on Jesus Radicals.
There are people who ask of immigrants, “Why do they want special treatment? There are rules. There are laws. Why should they get treated differently?”
This can be a frustrating question. But I want to suggest that it is also an opportunity to tell the true story, to tell the true history, to really highlight the unfairness behind the question and the policies, practices and perceptions that surround our immigration system and frame the current debates.
I want to suggest, for example, that the question, “Why do they want special treatment?” allows us to talk about the unfairness of U.S. economic policy and military policy that goes into other nations; destabilizes their economies, overthrows their democracies and supports brutal dictator. That help keep those countries in debt through institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and otherwise undermine people’s way of lives—only to have the audacity to turn those people away when they show up on U.S. soil. Where do you want us to go after you’ve built military bases on our lands? Where do you want us to go after you’ve helped make it impossible to survive at home? Where do you want us to go—and why shouldn’t we get help when we show up on your door? It’s not special treatment to show us basic human respect when we arrive: that’s reparations for the global problems caused by the economic and military choices this government makes in the world.
But I want to suggest that it gives us the opportunity to speak to the unfairness of a society that thinks immigrants are just fine when we’re working in hot fields, picking your vegetables for low and unlivable wages. That thinks immigrants are just fine when we are deep in the blood of other animals, destroying our bodies and risking our lives in slaughterhouses to put meat on your table. That thinks immigrants are just fine when we are building parts in your factories without benefits or a decent retirement plan, surrounded by chemicals. That thinks immigrants are just fine when we are babysitting your children; taking care of your old and sick; and working in your labs to cure your diseases. Yet when we ask for a legal way to drive to work, when we ask for basic human respect and a living wage, when we ask for a path toward citizenship—you want to lock us up and expel us.
The question, “Why do they want special treatment?” is an opportunity to speak to this unfairness. Of people benefitting every day from our time and our labor and our taxes and our sleepless nights and our broken families while refusing to give us what we deserve as fellow workers and students and scholars and fellow contributors to the health and wealth of the U.S. It’s not special treatment to find a way to allow us to stay in the place that we have already invested our sweat and our tears: its reparations for the advantages this country has already received by our presence.
We can use the question, “Why do they want special treatment?” to talk about whose land was taken in the first place to make America what it is today. We can use the question as an opportunity to talk about all the special treatment those who now get to call themselves citizens have attained as a result of their ancestors landing on these shores as colonists and settlers—and continue to receive even now.
This is all to say that it is important that we reframe the terms of the debate. That we move from a posture of begging for rights and recognition to one that says proudly to this society that we are here; that you are part of the reason why we are here; that there are things we deserve for what we’ve already done. That some of us have already been busting our asses to make our communities great and it is unacceptable to try and throw us out while keeping all the things we have given up for yourselves.
That is the injustice so many immigrants and refugees face, especially Black and Brown and other immigrants and refugees of color: that you make it impossible for us to come in when you have created emergencies in our home. That some of you permit us to be here so long as we don’t seek protection for ourselves. That others of you want to see us deported but you won’t allow us to take everything you reaped from us when we go. It is not special treatment for us to declare that these choices are unacceptable. It is what any human being would demand when faced with those degrading options.
In closing, I want to make three very direct appeals related to how we fight this fight.
- The first is to organizers of immigrant resistance and calls for justice. I understand that our Latino, Latina, Latinx and Middle Eastern brothers and sisters are currently on the frontlines of this administration’s policies, such as the border wall and the air travel ban. It is important to highlight those particular struggles. And at the same time, there are immigrant and refugee communities who have long been the targets of similar government policies, long before Trump took office, and those groups must not be forgotten or left out of our organizing. As a Black immigrant from the Caribbean, I insist that you remember our undocumented and often scorned Haitian brothers and sisters who are being deported after a 6 year hiatus—a change made under the Obama administration. I insist that you remember immigrants and refugees from African nations who also find doors closed to them when they arrive at our borders. I, also, insist that immigrant and refugee movements work to speak to all of our struggles. That resistance unjust policing and racial profiling, against ICE raids and incarceration, also means standing alongside Black Lives Matter and other movements for Black liberation. Because the same systems threaten us, and we can face them best together.
- Second, I want to appeal to the Black American community into which I have been transplanted and in which I have a home. I want to invite that community—my community as a Black person living in the US—to stand up for immigrants and refugees who are under siege. Because the same White nationalist and White supremacist agendas that threaten the lives of those sojourners, threaten Black American lives. If we turn our backs on deportations, on walls, on travel bans, and on other forms of state-sponsored repression and violence, then we will also be undercutting our own struggle for freedom and justice. We are already victims of terror. Let us not neglect to stand with others to say no to that terror just because it is happening to someone else from somewhere else.
- My third and final appeal is to my White working class and underclass sisters and brothers. Those who also experience unemployment and underemployment. Who also lack healthcare and decent housing. Whose labor is also extracted without receiving the benefits they deserve. On this International Workers Day, I invite, I encourage, I even beg you to consider that the stories you have been told are not true. That the immigrants and the Mexicans and the refugees and the foreigners are not to blame for the hardships you are in. That rather, blame must be placed at the feet of those bosses, of those companies, of those corporations who have no loyalty to its laborers and will chase increased profits at the expense of the people. I encourage you to consider that blame must be placed at the hands of those military practices that bomb others to get resources for those very same corporations that walk away from your communities, causing people to run scrambling for refuge in the process. I invite you to consider that we have a common interest as workers—whether immigrants and citizens, refugees and undocumented people, Black, Brown, Asian, Middle Eastern or White—to hold accountable those who show up in our cities, accept tax breaks and incentives, and jump ship when they find some other more vulnerable group to make money from. There is more than enough for all of us to have enough. We cannot let rhetoric and scare tactics and divide-and-conquer strategies block us from seeing that standing up for one another is a step toward all our well-being.