Why I Got Arrested Calling For A Clean Dream Act

Growing up as a child of Nigerian immigrants, I remember being in church in Brooklyn and hearing other Nigerian immigrants deliver testimonies about which son, aunt, cousin, or sister had won the visa lottery and could come join them in the United States. There would be collective sighs of relief and joy throughout the congregation. Everyone understood the struggles of having a loved one waiting to come to the U.S. Everyone understood how hard and life-changing it was. I remember my father telling me when he finally got his citizenship.

As a child and a citizen, I only came to see the significance of that moment years later. Now I’m seeing so many who’ve been through so much living in fear of being cruelly sent back — many who came here as children and actually have no recollection of the place they’re being told is their homeland.

It’s only later in life that I realized that this country, as inhospitable to Black people as it is, is still sought out as a haven by folks struggling for better things for themselves and their families. There are thousands of families like mine: Black immigrants who have to navigate both a new country and the racism within it.

This is why when we talk about passing a Clean Dream Act it is important to highlight how doing this also combats global anti-Blackness. It’s the same system building prisons that pipeline students into the carceral system and keeps people in fear of being sent to a detention center and subsequently deported. Fighting one side of the problem is actually a stand against both.

And, in many cases, Black immigrants have to worry about both. “Black immigrants comprise just 5 percent of the overall immigrant population, but 21 percent of those deported as a result of criminal contact,” says Carl Lipscombe, deputy director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “[A similar disparity] holds true when we look at detention rates.”

This is why on October 5th, as part of United We Dream’s day of action to demand a Clean Dream Act, I (along with three other activists) sat in and got arrested at the office of Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX). Hurd represents a district in Texas that is 70% Latinx and also a border town. Not only do his constituents need a path to citizenship, they would be negatively impacted by measures to further militarize the border.

I sat down because Black and Brown people are in intersecting struggles. It is because the same people who benefit from incarcerating us benefit from deporting us, and we have to stand together against both.

So what exactly does a Clean Dream Act look like today?

A Clean Dream Act provides a real path to citizenship for people already here, doesn’t allow for the further incarceration of immigrants — or throw millions toward an increasingly militarized border — and doesn’t rip families apart.

As it stands now, over 800,000 undocumented youth are being used as leverage in a Congressional fight that is really about how Trump can sneak in more policies that hurt Black and Brown communities. It’s an all-too-common example of the tactic of using the narrative of “deserving” or “innocent” immigrants against those that are “illegal.” This tactic of divide and conquer needs to fought back against with solidarity.

Because, let’s be clear, no one is illegal.

A Clean Dream Act looks like a bill that isn’t used as a Trojan horse for measures that would further criminalize Black and Brown people in the U.S. It would include a path to a more permanent status that isn’t derailed by minor mistakes like forgetting to update an address, and which doesn’t take close to two decades to happen.

I got arrested because I know if we don’t do something now to stop deportations and keep families together, it’s only going to get worse. From a racial justice standpoint, it’s also deadly. We’re hearing more stories of ICE agents behaving just like police and killing people as they attempt to arrest someone under a deportation order.

I sat down because Black and Brown people are in intersecting struggles. It is because the same people who benefit from incarcerating us benefit from deporting us, and we have to stand together against both. I sat down with folks who all knew someone who had been deported or who would be positively impacted by the passage of the Dream Act. As someone who now has a deeper understanding of the privilege of citizenship I hold, I know it’s imperative for all of us all to stand up for those just trying to lead decent lives in this country. Our struggles really are all connected, and the sooner we respect each other’s struggles, the stronger we will all be.