This blog was first published in Pathways Magazine.
The attack on so-called “undocumented” people, and the cult of fear evangelized so effectively by Donald Trump, have led people of conscience to propose and in some places to adopt community level laws that offer sanctuary to groups of human beings now targeted as public enemies, just for being members of those groups whose “papers are not in order.” The irony of media churned anxiety over immigration is that the “news” is so old-hat – people move to places where they think they might create better lives for their families.
There are borders on maps, created through conquest and war, but that doesn’t stop rivers from flowing across them. It doesn’t stop the wind from blowing or birds from flying across them. And it doesn’t stop jobs from leaving, bribes from coming in, or the U.S. military from deploying personnel in 156 nations, with military bases in 63 countries on the other side of that border, whether or not the people living in those countries want them or see them as “legal.” Laws about borders don’t stop any of these things, only poor people who have a right to move freely.
When we think of “undocumented” people in the U.S. crossing the border with Mexico, the irony is that the border changed dramatically after the U.S. war of conquest in the 1840s. Prior to then, Anglos in what are now California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming could have been labeled “undocumented” by Mexico. What changed? The border – an imaginary line got moved. What tools were used to bring about the change? Weapons, violence, and political bluster; the same tools being used to push millions of people on the current U.S. side of the border over to the current Mexican side.
The truth is that borders don’t exist in the real world. They are not empirically observable, not from space and not at ground level. Maybe the fences and walls are real, but a physical barrier asserting that a metaphysical illusion is real doesn’t make it so. During the so-called “cold war” Churchill claimed rhetorically that an “iron curtain” had descended across the European continent, although the Soviet Union had erected no such colossus. As we know, the high security checkpoints throughout Europe didn’t save the Soviet Empire, and even the tangible Berlin Wall came down to global cheers.
Let those who enthusiastically support Trump’s paranoiac call for a wall across the nation’s southern border risk the integrity of their delusions by considering these realities.
Can People be “Illegal?”
If being “undocumented” is such a concern, why aren’t the newspapers and networks and cables full of investigative journalism exposing the lack of documentation for trillions of public dollars unaccountably “missing” from military records? What about the lack of documentation of the names of corporations and billionaires that are buying our elections? And maybe Action News and The Situation Room could beat the drum, or at least give a little drum roll, and sound the alarm for undocumented police-on-citizen violence. How about the intentional undocumentation by the EPA when it redacts evidence that fracking in fact poisons groundwater? Or the judiciary’s defense of frackers proprietary “right” not to disclose what toxins they inject down past our aquifers inside the borders of our home towns and counties? Is undocumented pollution the same as a lack of pollution?
By that logic “illegal” undocumented people are just a figment of fear. Oh that’s right. That’s what they are. People can’t be illegal, but policies that strip them of fundamental rights can be.
If, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, all of us are born equal with certain unalienable rights, does that mean just U.S. citizens? But wait; there was no U.S. when the Declaration was written, and the reason that it was written was to make the case that those rights exist in all of us, just by virtue of being born, and that we create governments like the United States “to secure these rights.”
So when a government created to secure rights belonging to people regardless of what side of the border they were born on presumes to strip those rights and treat “undocumented” people as less than birds, bribes, rivers, wind, money, troops, tortoises, jobs and armadillos that cross the border unharassed, the rest of us have the power and authority to contravene those unjust, unconsented tyrannies and create sanctuaries for our oppressed fellow human beings. Of all the corrupt, obscene, dishonest prostitutions of law that now plague our profligate and fraudulent nation; declaring fellow humans to be “illegal” is perhaps the most indecent.
People can’t be illegal, but policies that strip them of fundamental rights can be.
If You don’t think We’re All in this Together, then You’re being Played
Divide and conquer – it’s the best strategy the tyrants have to keep us commoners from holding them responsible for stealing our labor, jobs, liberty and lives, and they use it effectively. Billionaire Donald Trump infamously characterized immigrants, whose rights have not been legally sanctioned with required paperwork, saying, they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Tea Party Millionaire Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, apparently cheered by Trump’s minority vote victory in the presidential election, recently sent out a message to constituents claiming that “dangerous illegal immigrants [are] roaming the streets.” He then cited one instance of a Dominican immigrant arrested in July 2015 by Philadelphia police “for raping a child.” The Senator failed to say that the crime was alleged, not proven, and then went on to say, “In November 2015, he made bail.”
Using this one example of a “dangerous illegal” to support his claim that “Too many Pennsylvanians have fallen victim to crime or are at risk due to dangerous sanctuary city policies,” Toomey went on to “prove” his point, saying “Federal law enforcement officers asked Philadelphia to hold him temporarily so they could pick him up and begin deportation proceedings. But the city refused to cooperate . . . because the city is a ‘sanctuary city’ – a jurisdiction that forbids their law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal immigration officials.”
Senator Toomey knows better, but he thinks his target audience doesn’t. Sanctuary city laws don’t forbid cooperation in the just enforcement of criminal law; they forbid a lack of due process or the violation of the rights of people within the jurisdiction of the local law. They refuse cooperation with state and federal agencies that require official immigration documentation before unalienable rights will be respected.
The making of local laws to enforce the protection of rights even against the state or nation – that is the highest, best use of the right of self-government.
People have an unalienable right to govern themselves in the communities where they live. They can decide, despite illegitimate state or federal preemption, who to invite in as neighbors – but not who can’t be neighbors, because that would be unjust discrimination. People exercising their right of self-government locally have authority to decide that they will protect the rights of everyone equally, without discrimination, no matter what state and federal policies violate those rights. The making of local laws to enforce the protection of rights even against the state or nation – that is the highest, best use of the right of self-government.
We all need sanctuary from policies that harm people and deprive them of their rights. When our legislators and representatives engage in demagoguery, putting people against people, and when they license and permit corporations to treat our communities like resource colonies and sacrifice zones, the people have a right to act democratically and collectively to decide if frack poisons will get pumped into their ground, whether or not climate-ruining fuels will be piped across their land, how the food they eat is grown, and whether their police will serve and protect every man, woman and child who lives among them, or giant corporations instead.
We all need shelter against the storm of anti-democratic tyrannical authoritarianism that’s thriving in the United States. Let’s take up the cause of justice and do what they don’t want us to do. Let’s act independent of their oppression by governing our counties, towns and cities in a way that places fundamental rights fairly and squarely above the fear-inflated policies meant to keep us busy hating each other while they dictate how we will be governed by the millionaires and billionaires.
To review a template ordinance for the protection of immigrant rights, or to adopt a community law to secure social justice and environmental rights in your hometown, see our Local Law Center and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is working with communities across the country. We are building a movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature — to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – and to stop unjust legal doctrines harming our communities.
Featured Image: We Are All Immigrants by Alisdare Hickson, Flickr Creative Commons February 4, 2017