“Ilegal”: the New “N” Word?

Last week, I wrote to say how I’m inspired by the young people at our local Catholic parish here in Durham who are advocating for the release of their youth minister, Fabiana. She was arrested and shipped three states away for deportation because her immigration papers are not in order.

I’ve been asking people of faith and good will here in Durham to stand with these kids and appeal for the release of Fabiana Polomo-Muniz.

What most Americans don’t know–what I didn’t know until other young organizers taught me–is that ICE does not have to detain any person who has not committed a crime in the U.S. While our government tries to sort out the complex issue of immigration reform, Asst. Secretary of Homeland Security John Morton has instructed each local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office to excercise “prosecutorial discretion.”

This means that detention centers across the U.S. are full of nonviolent, law-abiding people who have been separated from their families and communities. And nothing requires them to be there. They could be released today.

Who, then, does ICE release under prosecutorial discretion? The answer is simple: the people whose communities say, “We need these people. They are part of us. Please, send them home.”

This is what I’ve asked our city government in Durham as well as our congressional delegations to Raleigh and D.C. to do for Fabiana. You can ask them, too. And, in less than 30 seconds, you can send a direct message to ICE asking for her release yourself. (Movements like these need both numbers and “official” support.)

Still, some good people ask: but how can we advocate for someone who has broken the law? How can we support “illegals?”

I do not doubt our need for the rule of law in a world of injustice and twisted desire. We need good laws, and we need to obey them. But the conversation in Washington about “immigration reform” assumes that something is wrong with immigration law as it stands. The problem, in short, is that we have a law that makes the existence of 11 million people illegal.

The young undocumented people who’ve been my teachers over the past few years have helped me to see that they are in a situation very similar to that of black folks in the South fifty years ago. They are asked to live in the shadows as second-class citizens–to go to school, work hard, and watch their parents do menial labor in the hope that they might have a better future, only to be told, even when they graduate from our country’s best schools with honors, that they’re only eligible for a job in the kitchen or on a roofing crew.

“For us,” the tell me, “illegal is the new ‘n’ word.”

Like the young African-Americans who started the sit-in movement in 1960 here in North Carolina, these undocumented youth are standing up to say, “Excuse me. I am more than what some papers say about my immigration status. I am a human being.”

  • Andrew

    How should we change things as a country? We have immigration laws in this country for a reason. I’m not sure of all of them but some good reasons are so that felons and people that have committed big crimes in other countries don’t come here. What about the immigrants who try and do come here legally? What about all their hard work? It really is a messed up system that people in the USA “illegally” can’t get better jobs and that it must be so bad in their own country that they see this as a better option.

    What should we do? Let more people in legally? Have open borders so that anyone who wants to become a USA citizen can? What would be a good solution?

    • TheodoreSeeber

      It isn’t the laws that need changing necessarily- it is the bureaucracy. We need desperately to get things done in a more timely matter.

      10 years is a ridiculous amount of time to decide if a person has a record in their home country that would prevent them from getting a visa.

      Yes, we need justice for the citizens and legal immigrants. But we’d have a lot fewer illegals if legally immigrating was easier.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    I have often dissented from the Church on this issue. I no longer do, because I believe in hospitality.

    But I would question the wisdom of a pastor who would hire somebody who is intentionally breaking the law as a *youth minister*.

    Give her food, clothing, and shelter. Get her released from prison even if you have to take custody of her yourself in your own home. But don’t raise her up as a role model to our young, please.


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