Friday, October 11, 2013

When John Lewis is arrested, we should probably pay attention

Representative John Lewis (D-GA) has an astounding record of civil and human rights advocacy, both as a private citizen and a civil servant. He was a young civil rights leader who spoke at the March on Washington and now he is a champion of progressive, moral causes in congress.

John Lewis has been arrested 45 times in his life. The first 40 times occurred in conjunction with non-violent protests while striving for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others. The remaining five arrests all occurred while serving in congress; he was arrested twice at the South African embassy protesting apartheid, twice at the Sudanese embassy protesting genocide in Darfur, and on Tuesday was arrested during a rally for immigration reform.

Let's review: John Lewis has been arrested for demonstrating against bus segregation, other Jim Crow laws, apartheid, and genocide. These are universally (or as universally as anything can be) recognized as evil, dehumanizing, and systematic policies for the restricting of human rights. We ought to be ashamed that we've reached the point where US immigration policy joins this list.

Now that Lewis has been arrested while advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, do we as young Americans want to be able to tell our grandchildren we were recalcitrant or apathetic like those who were willing to abide the degradation of African-Americans OR do we want to be able to say that we finally realized that when John Lewis gets himself arrested something is going wrong?

Our generation has the opportunity and obligation to push for the rights of immigrant Americans, just as Lewis' generation had the opportunity and obligation to fight for civil rights. Again it won't be easy, but again we can accomplish great things if we are willing to put in the effort and work together.

Right now people die trying to cross the border between the US and Mexico in search of a better life, deportations tear families apart, and people who have been living in and contributing to this country for years live in daily fear that they will be uncovered as "illegal." But it doesn't have to be that way.

Our system is objectively broken and immigration reform needs to happen one way or another, so why not make reforms that alleviate people's suffering? Reforms that will keep both hardworking migrants and moral leaders like John Lewis from being arrested?

I think, of course, that we should listen to the words of Representative Lewis:
"We cannot rest, we cannot be satisfied until we have comprehensive immigration reform"

Fellow reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Al Green (D-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY) were arrested alongside Lewis. Many citizen immigration reform group leaders and activists were also arrested. The arrests came as a result of the protest blocking traffic on First Street in Washington D.C., and the charges were "crowding, obstructing, and incommoding."

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