They're Not Illegal Immigrants, They're Heroes

We need to stop calling undocumented immigrants in the United States
"illegal". A more appropriate term is: New American Heroes.

Why are undocumented immigrants heroes?

Millions of Americans, immigrants and citizens, work incredibly hard
every single day in ridiculously low paying jobs that are the
life-blood of our economy but are barely life-sustaining in return. I
think every person who gets up at the crack of dawn or in the middle of
the night to work one or two or even three jobs so they can pay the
rent and put food on the table are heroes. But as hard as it is for
every low-wage worker in the United States (and increasingly, middle
class folks too) undocumented immigrants face additional, greater
obstacles. These undocumented immigrants are heroes, too.

I certainly don't have what it would take to survive if I was forced
to flee my home country because of economic or political insecurity,
travel thousands of miles in sometimes life-threatening conditions,
move to somewhere where I probably don't know anyone and don't speak
the language, and do the most thankless and backbreaking jobs like
picking vegetables in the 100 degree sun or washing pots in a
restaurant - all to help my family survive. I think that is heroic.

But whether we're talking about undocumented immigrants in low-wage
jobs or middle class immigrants who overstayed their visas, as a nation
we have always believed that the pursuit of the American dream is
heroic. Given that the rest of the world has long paid the price for
sustaining the American dream (in terms of natural resources, cheap
labor, wars, etc.), it's only fair that immigrants should in turn hope
to share in that dream. Through our cultural dominance of the globe, we
repeatedly hold up the American dream as an ideal to which everyone
should aspire - and, we tell the world, one in which everyone is
included. It's only fair that others should want in.

Some argue that all makes sense but still, why can't all immigrants
just take the legal path to the American dream? Because, increasingly,
there isn't one. Two very important facts have changed in the last
decade that significantly impact the immigration equation.

First, in 1994, NAFTA was passed. Now, true, Mexico signed it - but
it was largely under the coercion of big international business
interests. The result was the devastation of Mexico's economy by larger
corporations in the US that flooded their market with cheaper products.
A lot of that was corn, which we subsidize with our tax dollars here -
and that artificially cheap corn imported into Mexico drastically
undercut local farmers. Folks who had been surviving for generations as
farmers and local business people are now seriously struggling.

Second, two years later, the United States passed a harsh
immigration reform law that, ostensibly, made it much harder for
immigrants already here (and with proper papers) to get citizenship AND
made it harder for migrants from certain countries - especially Mexico
and Central America - to come here in the first place.

So you pass United States policy that intentionally smothers small
farmers and shopkeepers, etc., in Mexico AND THEN you change
immigration policy so that these now-much-more-desperate immigrants
can't come to the US.

Why is it our corn can cross the border to "compete" in Mexico's economy but Mexicans can't cross the border to compete here?

In this context, the word "illegal" in the immigration debate is not
only divisive but misnomer. If anything, the United States' political
acts should be deemed "illegal", not the acts of well-meaning
immigrants left with no other choice. Moreover, throughout history, we
have celebrated those who disobey unjust laws in the name of justice.
Undocumented immigrants today are carrying the torch of Martin Luther
King, Gandhi, Sojourner Truth - great leaders who understood that
sometimes we must all answer to higher laws, to a higher belief in
freedom and equality for all. In the great tradition of the American
Revolution, resisting unjust laws - even if doing so is technically
illegal - is an act of heroism.

On May 1, 2010, hundreds of thousands of heroes marched in cities
and towns across the United States demanding a workable path to
citizenship that will move our entire nation forward together. Just as
it would be unthinkable for President Obama and Congress to ignore the
demands of military war heroes, we cannot ignore the dire situation
facing these heroes of economic wars our country has wrought. Just as
undocumented immigrants recognize higher good than broken immigration
laws, the President and Congress must find higher guidance than what is
considered politically safe.

The word hero comes from Greek meaning to protect or defend.
Undocumented immigrants are protecting and defending something much
more important than borders (which big business erased long ago).
Undocumented immigrants are defending the very definition of America,
one that has always promised opportunity for all newcomers and, with
any hope, always will.

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