On April 19th, Freddie Gray, a Baltimore resident, died as a result of a severed spine, an injury he suffered in the back of a police wagon. Gray’s death sparked the #BaltimoreUprising, which continues to shed a much-needed light on institutionalized state violence against Black bodies.
Immigration activism – like everything else – happens in the context of institutionalized state violence, and it is naïve to think that getting legal status will shield us from the violence Black bodies, PoC bodies, and LGBTQ bodies are systematically subjected to. Through redlining and other instances of the systematic denial of educational opportunity, many people in Baltimore are citizens in name only. Fed up, the people of Baltimore have risen up in the struggle against a violent, white supremacist state and a conception of citizenship that is not an outright lie. These actions, bringing to the fore what it means to be a member of the political community, are ones that those in the immigrant activist space must pay attention to. I contend that fighting against police brutality and anti-blackness means reexamining what us immigration activists mean when we fight for ‘Citizenship’.
For undocumented immigrants and our allies, looking within is important in addition to fighting against inherently racist political institutions. As Yves Gomes and I have written before, anti-blackness is a serious issue in the undocumented activist space; defeating it is necessary for progress. Gomes gives the conversations against anti-blackness a starting point:
Our conversations should begin at the very least by mourning the death of Freddie Gray, acknowledging his humanity, and admitting the privileges that we hold. There is a lot of literature by Black thinkers, current and past, on how we can address anti-Black racism, the roots of Black struggle in the US, and how it’s progressed over the course of 400+ years.
As someone who is both Black and undocumented, I seriously consider whether it is worth it to fight for a legal status which does not protect Black bodies from police brutality and institutional violence. The product of my struggle with this issue have been musings on the question “What should citizenship be?” To begin, citizenship is standing in solidarity with those in Baltimore who refuse to submit to police brutality and media misinformation. Citizenship should lift up our immigrant brothers and sisters who are unfairly subjected to the carceral state and expanding criminalization. Citizenship should be standing in solidarity with our LGBTQ comrades. Citizenship is defeating patriarchy/white supremacy.
In asking that we reexamine the definition of citizenship, I will note that immigration activism has done good work for our immigrant communities; my optimism tells me that it will continue to do so. Nevertheless, green cards, financial aid, and in-state tuition mean little if Black bodies suffer constant violence. Stopgaps like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals/Deferred Action for Parental Accountability are woefully inadequate given the task at hand. It is important that those in the undocumented immigrant community have a conception of citizenship that stresses something more than mere status. What is going on in Baltimore and around the country should motivate us as immigration activists to revolutionize the system as a whole, not merely seek to benefit from bureaucracy; a walk on the path to citizenship becomes a death march if our bodies are still the target.
Our experiences have always been more than papers. May our goals be the same.