Lessons From Lights for Liberty on Improving Immigrant Allyship

Photo: Dazzle Jam

By Samuel Paramore, Guest Columnist

This weekend saw Lights for Liberty vigils on behalf of those detained in the concentration camps along the southern border of the United States. Held on Friday, the events were a positive and affirming showcase of solidarity as people from Irvine to Los Alamitos attended by the hundreds. Educators, community leaders and clergy took to OC street corners in a way that hadn’t been seen until that bright night. And for many of the attendants, this event may have been their first such action.

With a lot of new folks coming into the fold, that means new allies can benefit from some seasoned guidance. There’s different ways to present messages about the immigration system, some much more correct than others. Take the vigil in Brea that I attended, for instance. The turnout proved substantial with most attendants, according to one of the organizers, having never shown up to such an action before. As heartwarming as it was to see so many who would never be in the scope of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) operations or be held by Border Patrol in deplorable camps come out, the event’s lack of intersectionality glared.

A few of the speeches echoed the liberal troupe of “I can’t believe such atrocities could ever happen in America!” That’s a statement which ignores the fact that ICE’s short history is a run-on sentence of cruelty and racism. The event also acknowledged little about the adults caught in the system, and focused on children in detention centers. A few people definitely showed up only for the children, particularly one self-identified Republican woman holding a sign stating, “Pro-Life. Pro-immigrant. All children are sacred.” A speaker saw the crowd’s presence as being that of the perennial  “voice for the voiceless.”

With the vigil being almost entirely white, that messaging makes for some queasy implications, especially when there was no acknowledgment of all the significant work done by undocumented activists in OC for decades. It felt like, at best, accidental erasure.

This extended to ignoring some fundamental truths about the immigration system. The night felt like it was more about the Trump Administration than the Border Patrol’s inherent corruption. An invited spokesperson for congressman Gil Cisneros said that the representative’s position was that he “could not sign” a bill that would more funnel more money to the agency because there wasn’t enough in it that would bring more safety and health measures to detention facilities, and that we should “not forget that the employees of ICE are human, too.”

The organizers of Brea’s vigil didn’t put together a bad event. Seeing near 200 people come out to support the undocumented community and asylum seekers was heart-warming. At the end of the night, when I exclaimed “Close the camps!” at cars passing by with an exuberant child yelling alongside me, I felt the importance of the action. This is a starting point, and those are always messy. This is a hand stretched out from one ally who knows what it’s like to get things wrong about what is needed to truly combat la migra to another.

A movement that follows a savior complex and a reformist path is unlikely to get children out of these camps, or bring standards to health within them, let alone stop the entirety of the cruelty. The goal has to be compete abolition to work. For us to believe that, we have to challenge our preconceptions and beliefs every day. Talk to the undocumented community that have led this fight for a long, long time. Invite them to speak at events like Lights for Liberty. Look into the principles of the politicians endorsed onstage.

All it requires of us is change. Lights for Liberty is as good a place as any to begin!

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