Following the Young on Immigration Reform

traiNew Orleans Maybe “following the leader” is going to be once again, as it is so often in movements, to allow the courage and immediacy of the young to finally dictate the tempo, and maybe even the targets, in the push to find a real path for comprehensive immigration reform?

Two things bring that to mind.  The first has been the huge resolve – and wild media attention – to the four young undocumented young men and women from the Miami area who have been on the Trail of DREAMs to try and bring attention – and resolution – to the problem of higher education for immigrants.  This is not a mass movement but it is shamefully inspiring.  Last week I happened to be passing CNN and saw them show up in rural Georgia at some hard shell, moss backed sheriff’s office to ask him some hard questions about his enforcement of 287g deputized roundups for immigrants in his county.  Lucky for him, he was out of pocket.  What was he going to do?  Arrest them as criminal offenders?  Of course not!  This is the courage of the bus rides, the lunch counters, and a thousand other points of civil rights pride.  And, this is a demand about now.

The same thing can be said about the couple of hundred young people who marched – with all of our hope and support – a couple of days ago in Chicago – demanding a real solution to the immigration crisis with their banner unfurled:  “Undocumented and Unafraid!”  These are the kinds of actions that pop the bubbles of complacency around the go-slow, legislative stalemate and finger pointing on all sides in Washington.

And, why should we be surprised at any of this?

Talking to Ken Johnson yesterday for a piece in the coming issue of Social Policy magazine, I wanted to get all of the details straight on what he was doing as a 16-year old in small town Plaquemine, Louisiana when he helped spirit James Farmer, then head of CORE, into a hearse to get him out of a church during the dangers days of the fall 1963 there.  They were fleeing a mob riding horses through the church because all white citizens had been deputized in order to keep the piece.  What’s really different in 287g, but the uniform and the badge?   Heck, Martin Luther King was only in his late 20’s in Montgomery?  We might still be in Vietnam if young people, including many young men facing the draft, war, and exile had not shown the same fearlessness, moral resolve, and immediacy in calling the question on the war at huge risk over and over until it brought the Johnson government down.

The sweet sauce for immigration reform it seems finally clear is not going to come inside the Beltway and along the hallways of Congress and the corridors of power, but from the streets.  And, it may be that the anger, passion, and immediacy of the young will once again have to force the hands of power to finally twist the levers of real reform.

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