What, to the Undocumented Immigrant, is the 4th of July?

Reflections on the organizing of Vamos Juntos, The Philadelphia Workers Association, and New Sanctuary Movement on the American holiday.

In the days leading up to this 4th of July three moments have weighed deep on my mind. For me, these moments were examples of a much larger question that should weigh on the whole of the American conscience.
Last week in South Philadelphia, a short walk from where the words “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” were written, several families were ripped apart as a series of raids on their homes threw fathers, brothers, mothers and sisters into deportation proceedings.
Also last week, in the parking lot of a Home Depot, management called the police and forced away men who find work by waiting for people to pick them up for contracting jobs. The situation of harrassment from management increasingly makes it difficult for these men to earn the pay that their families depend on them to earn.
At the same time, a growing number of people of faith and community leaders are fasting, spanning 40 days and 40 nights, to call for an end to the of the City government’s complicity with deportations along with a truly just and humane federal immigration reform.
These events can not be ignored in the context of much debated Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The response from the U.S. Senate to the decade of calls for a path to citizenship is a bill that will place armed forces on the U.S. border at levels comparable to the occupation of Afghanistan. Along with this, the Senate’s proposal effectively criminalizes poverty, requiring that anyone seeking citizenship show they have gone no more than 60 days unemployed in a 10 year period and earned an income above the poverty-line.
The 4th of July should be a moment to celebrate the ideals and actions of this nation’s forefathers, who believed that a monarchy’s crown could not offer them justice and that every person has a divine right to liberty. Yet, there is a profound hypocrisy that endures in these United States. One person is deported every minute in the US, making the Obama administration the record-holder in deportation rates. Each minute, another human being is shuttled away, another family is broken apart, another promise of American liberty fails.
This is a conflict that has weighed on the national spirit of the United States for some time. Seventy-six years into the founding of our nation Fredrick Douglass, a runaway slave who became a powerful voice against the common sense of his time by advocating for the abolition of slavery, asked:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim… Your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
Now, 237 years after this nation’s forefathers declare independence, the same question can be asked for a new group of those excluded in the United States – what, to the undocumented immigrant, is the 4th of July?
Throughout the American slave trade, which stretched from the Potomac to the Mississippi, making profit by trading human beings as slaves stood above any and all sense of morality. Today, what morality is there to breaking families apart, denying work, and criminalizing poverty? None. Yet private companies benefit from a growing rate of deportations, private contractors benefit from militarization at the border, and national policy is finely crafted for economic gain over reuniting families.
The denial of liberty and freedom to immigrants is not just a threat for those who are undocumented but is part of the inequality experienced by the vast majority of the United States. Elsewhere, while denouncing the exploiters of his time who depended on the slave system, Fredrick Douglass remarked,
The slaveholders, with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by encouraging the enmity [hostility] of the poor laboring white man against the blacks, succeeds in making the said white man almost as much a slave as the black slave himself… The slave is robbed by his master of all his earnings, above what is required for his bare physical necessities; and the white man is robbed by the slave system of the just results of his labor, because he is flung into competition with a class of laborers who work without wages.
While American citizens are led to believe that the hundreds-of-thousands of deportations a year protect our freedoms it is clear to me as it was clear to Fredrick Douglass that there is more held in common between working American citizens and undocumented immigrants than there is between working Americans and those who profit from this cruel and unjust system.
The cause to celebrate the 4th of July must reconcile a moral delima which is too often left invisible to the national consciousness. But moral fortitude is alive and well in the acts of people who are organizing to reunite their families, protect the dignity of all work, people who are fasting for 40 days to demand a real end to the unjust deportations and a true path to citizenship. Considering these acts, this 4th of July incites a deep moral indignation and outrage that should make abolitionists of us all.
In solidarity with:
Who continue to fight and organize for respect, dignity and justice.