Why 'Illegal Aliens' Are Neither

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Picture yourself at work, trying to earn a living wage to feed your family, when a government force breaks into your workplace and demands to see immigration papers. They arrest you if you cannot show proof of your legal status or if they are simply suspicious of it. They hold you in a cell in a detention center, separating you from your family without giving them any notice.

The government's infringement on human rights continues to take place within the U.S. immigrant and refugee population. In 2007, more than 280,500 individuals were deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This year it is estimated that 500,000 people will be deported. Why? According to ICE, the organization is "responsible for eliminating vulnerabilities in the nation's border." The term "vulnerability" implies weakness because of a threat. The threat? So-called "illegal aliens." Not only are these humans labeled as "aliens"-as if they weren't human­-but they are also labeled criminals.

The criminalization of people based on their immigration status must end. Migration is not illegal; it is a human right. Migration to this country has been taking place for 500 years, but people of color have always faced persecution, unlike white immigrants who have been allowed to call the U.S. home.

Sometimes people do not have a choice; they are forced to migrate due to political and economic instability. Much of the political instability is caused by U.S. interference through legislation such as NAFTA. Ironically, "the land of the free" removes these immigrants and refugees from the homes they have and then denies them new ones.

The U.S. continues to use methods of harassment and discrimination to displace individuals that are not ideal American citizens. The only way to stop these raids and violations against immigrants and refugees is to openly dialogue about the raids and the exploitation of workers. We need to wake up, educate immigrants about their rights, and work together to mobilize and change this reality.

As students, we have the duty not only to educate ourselves, but to educate others. Nowadays students talk about the injustices, but often remain M.I.A. when it comes to organizing and taking real action. The effort of the few is often clouded by the lack of the many.

The apathetic attitude of many is due to the lack of information and awareness about legislative injustices like Proposition 209. We are privileged to attend this institution of higher learning, to have access to many resources and to not be living the harsh realities of many immigrant workers. We should not be satisfied with just reading about the history written in our textbooks, but should step out of our classrooms and apply our knowledge to the struggles we are now facing to create an active change in our community.

Struggles such as the exploitation of workers and deportation of immigrants and refugees require not only acknowledgement, but action. Often the attitude is, "If it does not directly affect me, why should I get involved?" But we have to realize that once we give in to apathy and let the rights of others go then our rights are next. Their work feeds and clothes us and allows us to have access to clean facilities. They sacrifice their education to help us attain ours.

We have to realize that workers out there are not making a living wage and undocumented immigrants are being denied their basic human rights. How can people who seek a better life be labeled as criminals when their only crime is having the courage to leave their homes to toil in a foreign land, receiving low wages from people who do not even value their back-breaking labor?

This Thursday is International Workers' Day, a celebration of the successes of the labor movement. For the past three years, coalitions have formed to organize workers, students and immigrants to unite in solidarity to resist and eliminate the harassment and persecution of immigrant communities and the devastating separation of families. This year, the demands also include money for services-not war, a living wage for workers regardless of their immigration status, halting the use of no-match letters that threaten immigrant workers, and holding our government officials accountable in protecting immigrant rights.

The May 1st Coalition is having a rally and march with the theme "One Land. One People. One Struggle." The theme reflects community struggles and experiences. On this day, student support is vital, that is why we ask that you make your presence known. In the words of labor organizer Dolores Huerta, "Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk."


Jessica Cerittos and Elena Vilchis are UC Berkeley students. Reply to [email protected]

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