Demand dignity and respect for immigrants

By Erik Forman

Over the last few weeks, we have witnessed the emergence of the largest protest movement this country has ever seen. From New York to L.A., immigrants and their allies have taken to the streets to demand dignity and respect. The immediate target of the demonstrations is a set of legislative proposals that propose to reconfigure the juridical status of immigrants in U.S. society. However, judging from the signs seen at some of the marches, the movement is going beyond negative opposition to xenophobic legislation, and has begun articulating a positive vision of a new world where “no one is illegal.”

The movement is accelerating rapidly. In Madison, workers have self-organized a general strike for April 10. They have moved past their leadership. We will have an opportunity to join in solidarity with immigrant workers and families this Sunday as they march from the cathedral to the capitol in St. Paul. This is only the beginning. Several organizations representing the immigrant community have called for a national boycott on May 1—a day of no working, no school, no buying, and no selling. In order for the strike to be successful, everyone who is empathetic to this cause must join with the immigrant workers shoulder-to-shoulder to show that an injury to one is an injury to all.

In the context of the current debate on campus about global citizenship, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate if there is anything behind the rhetoric of civic engagement and global community on this campus. Does the global citizen use his or her privilege for the benefit of those denied all citizenship? Or do we expect to continue to live on the backs of people who have traveled thousands of miles to do the jobs that many of us are unwilling to accept? Or is global citizenship something that is awarded to those who are willing to accept the cause of global capital as their own? These questions will not be answered in public forums or academic documents, but in the streets.

As this movement accelerates, I hope that we can all learn from the courage of immigrants who have nothing, but are willing to sacrifice everything for their community and their future. It would be easiest for most of us to continue living our lives as if there were no connection between the protesting immigrant community and our own college community. There are indeed many, many connections between us. Many of us are from immigrant families, and we all benefit from the labor of immigrants. To deny these connections now, as we are called on for solidarity and support, would mean nothing less than stabbing the immigrant community in the back. Instead of ignoring the call to action (www.nohr4437.org), I hope that the Macalester community can heed the utopian impulse at its core, and fight together for a world where no one is illegal.

Contact Erik Forman ’08 at [email protected]