Juneteenth

June 18, 1865 dawned much like every other morning had for the folks on the Island of Galveston, TX. No doubt quiet whispers of the Emancipation Proclamation had been circling since the day Lincoln issued it in 1863 but nothing had changed here. Texas did not see itself as  part of the United States and, therefore, did not feel the need to comply with the freedom of slaves.

Most of the 250,000 slaves in Texas at this time had moved there from other states when their owners moved west to escape the fighting during the Civil War. A few came through domestic slave trade and fewer still came through illegal African trade, but most had moved in from the deep South. By 1860, the average price for a slave in Texas was $800, though the best field hands could bring $1200 and blacksmiths were valued at $2000. Sugar and cotton production had grown by leaps and bounds, as a result of these slaves and the economy was booming.

But the army rolled in with the heat that day. Union Army General, Gordan Granger, arrived on the island with a troop of 2000 Federal Soldiers. The next day, June 19, he read the General Order No. 3 which stated:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

This day became known and celebrated as Juneteenth.

Upon hearing the news, many slaves left the region. However, over the next seven years, a group of African Americans located across the state of Texas collected and saved money to purchase a piece of ground they would then dedicate to the celebration of Juneteenth. In 1872, they purchased ten acres of open land and named it Emancipation Park. This park can still be found today in Houston’s Third Ward.

153 years have passed. While I believe with all my heart that Juneteenth is worth celebrating, I also know down deep in the basement of my soul, that the fight is not over yet. “Absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property” floats through my mind like a living, breathing, ancient mantra. It’s the way things should be. The way things are meant to be. Yet, too many people are still living as if it were June 18, because, let’s be honest for minute, if the stripping away of personal rights of another human being makes us safer, wealthier, more powerful, we tend to forget about the person behind those stripped rights.

If we really lived this, we wouldn’t have more black prisoners than white, neighborhoods wouldn’t be still largely segregated, mothers at the borders would not have their babies taken from them, Native Americans would not be relegated to small corners of this wide land without so many basic rights and blood would stop spilling on our sidewalks.

White people, June 18 is over. What is it that we are grasping to hold on to?  When we choose to believe in absolute equality, we find something so much better than safety, wealth and power. Push yourself into June 19 and discover the freedom that comes from living life as it was meant to be…a beautiful, colorful community.

Ten Things You Should Know About Undocumented Immigrants

  1. An estimated 50% of undocumented workers pay income tax. In 2015, this was in the amount of 23.6 billion dollars. While some are paid under the table, many find a way to pay taxes because they believe it will help them to become a citizen someday.
  2. Even though they pay taxes, they are unable to take advantage of any government programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, Earned Income Credit, Food Stamps, SSI and Pell Grants/Student Loans.
  3. 67% are between the ages of 25 and 54. They are not content to sit around taking benefits, they work. They tend to take on low-paying jobs, mostly in agriculture, construction, production (manufacturing, food processing and textiles), service and transportation.
  4. They help create jobs. 13% are self-employed and have found legal ways to open up businesses. In 2014, these entrepreneurs generated 17.2 billion dollars of income.
  5. Studies have shown that where immigrants increase, crime tends to decrease. In one study, the ten areas with the largest growth of immigrants had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980. Another study showed that while the population of undocumented immigrants tripled from 1990-2013, crime in those areas fell by 48%.
  6. Current immigration laws make it nearly impossible for anyone to immigrate lawfully. Immigration 101 breaks it down into three ways – if you have an employer in the US who is willing to sponsor you, if you have a spouse who is a US resident (or after 5 years if you are single and your parents are US residents, and after 10 years if you have a sibling who is a US resident) and, lastly, if you are seeking asylum. An undocumented immigrant who has a child that is a US citizen aged 21 or older, can apply as a family member but the wait can be 20 years long. To understand how immigration laws have changed since our ancestors arrived, read this article.
  7. Not everyone who is undocumented came here illegally. They may have had a tourist or student visa and overstayed. They may have been brought here by parents when they were quite young. Even for these children, it is almost impossible to become a US citizen.
  8. Asylum seekers cannot apply for entrance until they reach a US border. Refugees are people who are seeking asylum and receive permission for entrance before they enter, a process which takes years. Asylum seekers are held in detention centers until they can have a Credible Fear Interview to establish that their lives would be in danger if they were forced to return home. For more on the process, read this article. Families were kept together during this time until the recent Zero Tolerance Policy began. Now all undocumented adults entering the US, including asylum seekers who are going through the “legal” way to do things, are criminally prosecuted, which gives authorities the “right” to take their children away from them. Now, instead of being held in detention centers, they are jailed. This separation of families violates international law, according to Amnesty International.
  9. It costs an average of $10,854 to deport one person. Mass deportation could cost the US Government $400 billion. The labor force would shrink 6.4%, resulting in a $1.6 Trillion reduction of US GDP and the US economy would shrink 5.7% according to New American Economy.
  10. Undocumented workers already give more than they take. Imagine if they were given a clear path to citizenship. Not only would most of them be paying taxes, it would open up doors for education and better jobs. All of this would result in an estimated $68 billion in local and state tax revenues within a decade. Federal Tax revenues would increase by $116 Billion and the estimated GDP growth would be $1.4 Trillion.

If you remove the humanitarian motivations, the religious dictates, a heart of compassion, and look at it purely from an economic viewpoint, studies overwhelmingly demonstrate that it costs us greatly to dismiss those often referred to as “illegals”. But these undocumented immigrants give back to us in so many other ways as well.

May their bravery give us courage to speak up against unjust laws. May their willingness to leave everything behind give us the willingness to leave behind our prejudice and the fear of cultures different from our own. May their hard work and payment into a system that they will never benefit from give us at least a little courage to work harder to be open to new ideas and to give them a chance, whether we ever benefit from it or not. Instead of viewing these fellow humans as lawbreakers or animals, may we learn to see them as risk takers and trauma survivors who are also our brothers and our sisters.