This week, the Poor People’s Campaign marches from Georgetown to Austin Texas. Among their demands is a call for permanent protections, dignity & respect for all 11 million undocumented immigrants. As we keep these holy trouble makers in our prayers, Sarah Weintraub of the Wisconsin PPC offers her testimony on the impact that our broken immigration system has had on families. Sarah and her family helped start a garden in their neighborhood in Milwaukee which serves as a place to bring people together and organize. The image above features tile posts created at an art day in the garden, and they show traditional crops from the diverse countries of origin of residents. The sides of the posts have tiles inscribed with messages and drawings of hope and justice written by neighbors. 

Why I Can’t Sleep: Testimony on a Broken Immigration System

by Sarah Weintraub, Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign

Can’t sleep. Up thinking about how hard it has been for so many families this past year who haven’t been able to see each other because of the pandemic. The real pain that comes from being separated from your loved ones and the joy that so many have had this summer being reunited.

And I’m also thinking about the joy families will get to experience when we finally break down every damn border wall and checkpoint. My husband hasn’t seen his parents in over a decade. Think about someone you have missed during this pandemic and then multiply it by ten. He has never met our beautiful niece and nephews. Every time I have visited his family, his mother has cried to me that she misses her son, that she hopes she can hold him again before she dies. My brother-in-law is living with us and I hear him have to say goodnight to his children over video chat with no idea when he will hug them again, if they will be grown by the time he gets to be there for bedtime. Family separation isn’t just something that happens from deportations, it’s already a fact every day for most immigrants. And this pain and separation is not a necessary precaution to keep people safe from a dangerous virus, it is totally manufactured. It is because everything, EVERYTHING, is organized around profit for a few rather than dignity and humanity for us all.  

Some people may think that they made a choice to come here, that these are the consequences for that decision, but our family knows that there is little choice involved. Tabasco, where my husband, Freddy, and his family are from, used to be called the “Eden of Mexico”. People called it that because of its incredible biodiversity, rivers, lakes, lagoons, and rich soil. Freddy’s family used to grow cacao, oranges, mangoes, avocados, corn, beans, squash, and much more to support themselves. But in addition to biodiversity, abundant clean water, and rich soil, Tabasco has lots of oil. Since the oil companies have come in and drilled, built pipelines, and built refineries, the soil and water have become increasingly contaminated. The temperature has risen as the vegetation has died off. Freddy’s family no longer grows any of those crops. And now they talk  about the land as being “muerta” or dead. The oil companies had promised payments to families when the lines crossed through their land, but they quickly sold contracts from one company to another over and over, and then claimed they had no responsibility to the original contract because they didn’t make it. Freddy’s father is constantly leading groups of people to blockade the roads so the oil trucks can’t get in until they pay the measly amount that was promised to them- nothing compared to the ecological cost of their activities or to the enormous profits these companies make by exploiting the land. With no ability to feed themselves from their land anymore and no jobs, what choice did Freddy and his brother have?

“Some people may think that they made a choice to come here, that these are the consequences for that decision, but our family knows that there is little choice involved.”

A few years ago, I was on a flight to Tabasco to visit Freddy’s family and introduce them to my son, their grandson and nephew, who was about a year old. Pretty much the entire flight except for us was filled with young, white men. And strangely, they all seemed to know each other. I’ve flown to Mexico before and had never seen anything like this. Usually it was a mix of Mexican and US families, people going on vacation, etc. I was so curious, and finally asked someone sitting near me what they were all doing on this flight. He told me they all work as managers on the oil rigs, platforms, and fields in Tabasco. They fly down, work for 10 days, and then have 10 days off while another crew from the US travels down. How often have we heard about people from Mexico flooding across the border to “steal” American jobs. This was literally an entire airplane full of workers from the US crossing the border every 10 days to work in jobs that could be actual family-sustaining, manager-level jobs for Mexican workers -in exactly the same place where young people have to constantly leave to attempt to make it to the US so they can feed their children. Watching these guys get served drinks and watch movies on their phones during their “border crossing” I couldn’t help but think of my husband and brother-in-law crossing a desert, risking their lives, to come here and work for a minimum wage.

The moral narrative about immigration is so skewed, so distorted- pitting low-wage workers against each other when in reality, the whole immigration system is designed to maximize profit and benefit for a small few; designed to funnel money and resources to the most wealthy, while leaving others without any means of survival.

Sometimes we get so used to things that we almost don’t notice anymore. Sometimes we stop waking  up every day in rage that there are millions of families being kept from each other for no reason, millions of empty houses while people sleep in the street, plenty of hospitals and medicines but people dying because it costs too much. But sometimes it keeps us up at night.

And I will never stop fighting for the world my husband deserves, my suegra deserves, our children deserve, we all deserve.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is currently engaged in a Season of Nonviolent Moral Direct Action July 12 – August 8. Through this season of weekly Moral Monday Nonviolent Moral Direct Actions, we will continue to escalate our public pressure for change. We invite partners and all people who believe in justice and democracy to join us in this critical moment in history to save the soul and the body of this nation.

We demand that Congress:

  1. End the filibuster
  2. Pass all provisions of the For the People Act
  3. Fully restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act
  4. Raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hr
  5. Ensure permanent protections, dignity & respect for all 11 million undocumented immigrants

This week, the Georgetown-to-Austin Moral March for Democracy (July 28th- 31st) begins at 7am CT each morning and finishes each day in the early afternoon, culminating in a Rally at the Texas State Capitol on Saturday, July 31 @ 10am CT

To join the Georgetown to Austin March RSVP on Action Network here