The following is a shortened version of the speech given by Lando, of Ocupemos el Barrio, on December 3, 2011. Lando spoke at a rally outside the Boston offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
My friends, the immigration policy in this country is morally bankrupt. At the present time our justice system commits gross injustices against its citizens, its legal residents, and those who have been segregated and marginalized by labeling them ‘illegal aliens’.
The current deportation practices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) are inefficient, discriminatory, and cruel. The ICE rounds up people of color in factories, in their homes, and in the streets. It profiles them because of their appearance and then subjects them to a sham of a legal process, an “expedited deportation” system in which up to fifty people at a time are given less than one minute to plead their innocence. You don’t have a lawyer to advocate for you? Too bad. You don’t speak English? Too bad. American citizens are routinely denied due process, incarcerated, and finally, months later, dumped on the other side of the border.
Alarmingly, the ICE outsources incarceration to private businesses, such as the Corrections Corporation of America. For this reason alone, the entire ICE bureaucracy should be shut down! Since when is it appropriate to hand over the jailing and deportation human beings to for-profit companies? Or to receive a financial incentive for every person deported? Such practices are representative of the nefarious deals the government has made with private companies. Because these gross injustices affect minorities almost exclusively, few people learn of them and fewer complain.
Those in the 1% would have you believe that most people being deported have broken the law. But I ask you: What law is being broken by a person who works to put food on the table for his or her family? The answer is: an unfair law. In the self-righteous question, “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” – we can hear the echo of those who asked our African-American brothers and sisters, “What part of ‘the back of the bus’ don’t you understand?” or “What part of ‘we serve whites only’ don’t you understand?” We have unfair laws with unfair punishments, and the law must be changed now.
Moreover, let’s not forget what causes masses of people to migrate to the United States. The American imperialist project, with its military-industrial complex, seeks to control entire continents. It pursues its goals by destabilizing governments, dominating economies, and exploiting natural resources. The juggernaut of corporate multinationals displaces small businesses, lowers the wages of workers on foreign shores, and denies them the right to organize unions by means of so-called “free-trade agreements.” Who suffers the consequences of such systematic greed? The farmers, the workers, the poor of other nations, who finally have almost no other option than to risk freedom and life itself to seek dignified livelihood in the United States. And even that is being taken away.
Almost no American citizen accepts employment in sweatshops like those operating right now in East Boston or in Worcester. Almost no American citizen lives in a house with thirty other migrant workers, sometimes ten in a small room, to sustain him- or herself on pitiful wages. The reason they don’t do so is because this is exploitation. However, such conditions are exactly what the current immigration laws impose: human-rights abuses on a massive scale and an underground economy rife with the mistreatment of workers. Those in the 1% want minorities and immigrant communities to settle for this.
Contrary to some claims, undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, and they do build and support their communities. Nonetheless, they are denied the fruits of their contributions. We are denied health care, education, job opportunities, bank accounts, and even a driver’s license to travel to and from work. Over 4 million people have been deported since January 2009 when Barack Obama took office, more deportations than under George W Bush. During this year alone, over 45,000 families have been torn apart because the head of the household was deported. We say to President Obama: Wake up! No human being is illegal! We demand our human rights! Stop all deportations now!
In closing, I want to invoke the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.” These words were echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. many times, most famously when he 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.” My friends, civil disobedience is an act of moral courage, an open defiance of unfair laws. Thousands of undocumented immigrants do so by getting up every morning and going to work.