Celebrating our nation’s birthday on July 4th reminds us how lucky we are to live in a country built on democracy. We must also remember that our democracy was formed and is maintained by active participation of the governed – namely, us. When we see that our government is taking us in a wrong direction, it requires us to speak out and take action to affect change. Peaceful protest is one kind of action.
We are all familiar with the situation on the southern border of the United States where thousands of hopeful immigrants from Central America either wait to enter the U.S. or risk crossing the border between checkpoints to seek asylum. Thousands of asylum-seekers have been arrested and are being held in overcrowded detention centers. Children have been separated from their families or caregivers and whisked away to separate holding facilities. We’ve seen the pictures on the news of children and adults crowded into chainlink cages with nothing more than a mylar sheet for sleeping on the floor. Social workers, lawyers and members of Congress report that these detainees are not given even the basic necessities of soap, toothbrushes, changes of clothing, or even the ability to wash their clothes. These facilities, despite the objections of the U.S. Border Patrol, the Trump administration and Trump himself, fit the dictionary definition of concentration camps.
This is why I joined a protest last week in Burlington in front of the offices of Senators Sanders and Leahy to demand the close of the detention-center-concentration-camps. Hundreds of Vermont citizens, including many from Charlotte, showed up for the march from the top of Church Street to the corner of Main and South Willard Street. We marchers were determined to raise our voices against these policies of this administration, an administration that took an immigration policy that has been broken for decades and exacerbated it to the crisis of the present day.
I believe that America is better than this. Instead of walls to keep people of color out, we need changes to our immigration system that allow human beings who want to make a better life for themselves and their children into our great country. When my grandparents came over at the beginning of the 20th century, they were not educated, wealthy people. Nor were the immigrants that preceded them from whom most of us are descended. But they came and worked at the hard labor jobs like coal mining, steel smelting, house cleaning or whatever menial jobs were available that allowed them to provide for their families. Some started their own businesses like my grandmother did after her husband’s back was broken in the mines. Rather than being a drag on the economy, they helped grow the economy.
This has been the history of this country, and it is just as true today. The migrant farm worker in Vermont is a benefit to our economy and should not be the target of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) as so many in the last three years have been. Three young men were arrested a few weeks ago in St. Albans as they were shopping and using Western Union to send money back home to their families. Shamefully, they were turned in by a “concerned citizen” who apparently observed them and heard them speaking Spanish. They are just the latest in a series of arrests by ICE in Vermont of those who dare to take jobs that no one else wants in this country.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that as a result of our current immigration policy, our country has reached a nadir with respect to its moral authority, but we have begun to swing back to a higher moral ground as evidenced by the 2018 election. It is up to us to make sure it does not falter as a result of our inattention and inaction.
Mike Yantachka is a Democratic state representative for Charlotte-Hinesburg (Chit 4-1) District.