“A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together. This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together- black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu- a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ‘The World House,’ 1967
The national holiday of Martin Luther King Day is often perceived and treated as day in commemoration of the finalized achievement of racial equality and public service as a true national value. A day off from work, an anesthetized and unified nodd promoting a sort of supine color blind, post-racial era of equality which everyone can support with ease and comfort. And of course, race neutrality is comfortable because it avoids the confrontation of racial injustice, is subject to even the most inaccurate interpretations of history, and is vulnerable to the displacement of the origins and nature of inequality. However, the advancement in the equality of treatment without truth and justice renders hollow, if not impossible, any sort of meaningful equality or reconciliation. It also ignores the structural and systemic realities engineered to undermine both.
Nowhere is this national denial more acutely evident than in our national amnesiatic understanding of the message and work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The I Have A Dream speech has been utilized by some to purport that adequate sociopolitical progress has been attained due to the will of general society. That Dr. King’s dream has been realized. Yet, the Dream speech was delivered some five years before King’s assassination. The year of his death, Dr. King’s speeches and initiatives not only expressed that inadequate strides had been made, but disappointment due to a worsening political climate. In fact, King explicitly stated that the ‘dream’ of 1963 had not been realized. King’s dismay and rage towards current United States domestic and foreign policy is articulated in his 1968 speech The Three Evils of Society, wherein he described government response to entrenched deplorable social conditions as a deliberate ‘anemia of concrete performance.’ King did evolve and his vision and plans for the coming phase of the movement for human rights are articulated in his 1967 work ‘The World House,’ the initiative for economic justice known as the Poor People’s Campaign, and anti-Vietnam stance.
‘The World House’ arguably encompasses King’s message of human rights in which he declared “all inhabitants of the world are now neighbors.” Indeed, Dr. King’s secular theoretical and ecumenical prophetic liberative theological framework stand squarely within the edifice of human rights. A ‘single garment of destiny,’ ‘network of mutuality,’ or ‘world house,’ all symbolic of the illusion of separateness and thus the interconnectivity of mankind. A principle of human rights that is insistent upon the intrinsic and the very inexorable value of every human being. In fact, Dr. King characterized the social unrest and uprising of the time as an organic natural phenomena, a ‘rumbling of discontent’ of the ‘thunder of disinherited masses.’ And it is this thunder that can still be heard rolling, a turbulence that can be felt this very day. For the very essence of the demand for racial justice, immigrant rights, queer justice, gender equality, economic justice, peace, and climate justice are at their core a vociferate command for human rights. They are a collective intersectional global demand. They are one in the same call in Ferguson, Dilley, Baltimore, West Bank, and Gaza. And neglect of any threatens the stability of our world house. In a state of disrepair the house fragments, its frame shifts, and becomes a blight in need of desperate and obvious repair. Extensive disregard engenders dilapidation and a decay begins to set in, which threatens the habitability of the very place upon which we rely for survival.
Published in 1967, King’s final book before his assassination, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, ‘The World House’ chapter posits for resolution three primary moral imperatives: racism, poverty, and war- human destruction. Of course, most all claim a desire of the eradication of these ills. Yet none can conspire to realize the message and vision of Dr. King without the discomfort of change. The process of repairing our world house is decidedly uncomfortable. For it requires a shift of the societal power dynamic and a change in institutional structures and systems- foremost our understanding of those who should be leading them and the interests which ought take precedence. The demand for change, as demonstrated in Montgomery, Selma, Delano, Stonewall, Attica, Soweto, and Robben Island caused significant discomfort to all, but most of all required the discomfort and seize of power from those who disproportionately held dominance and privilege. King makes clear throughout his work that society must dispense of the privilege of comfort for a few at the expense of the many.
Some may ponder the relevance of Dr. King to immigration law or immigration matters. However, Dr. King perceived that the American civil rights movement could not be understood outside of the course of global events, King states, ‘however deeply American Negroes are caught in the struggle to be at last at home in our homeland of the United States, we cannot ignore the larger world house in which are also dwellers…..in one sense the civil rights movement in the United States is a special American phenomenon which must be understood in the light of American history and dealt with in terms of the American situation. But on another and more important level, what is happening in the United States today is a significant part of world development.’ Certainly, immigration law, which represents a polity’s response to the right of human migration, and an expression of international relations, and can often not be understood outside of the scope of global occurrences. Historically immigration policies articulate and reflect national values and sentiments towards the international community. Specifically, immigration law often tellingly indicates national character and beliefs of whom is or should be included as an “American” or “citizen” and thus the protection of the laws.
With a prophetic relevance, Dr. King’s message brandishes a sharp probe upon our current state of national affairs. Since the inception of the nation, nationality has always been entangled with deeply embedded race and religious prejudices. Applied discriminatorily, historically immigration laws often reflected these biases. In fact, it was the landmark Yick Wo v. Hopkins case that addressed exclusion based on both race and nationality, which helped to establish the disparate impact doctrine under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. It was then Justice Matthews writing for a unanimous Court in the 1886 opinion declared, ‘distinctions between citizens solely based because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people.’ The recent sweep of national immigration enforcement by the United States Department of Homeland Security- Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, illuminates the need for immigration to be a matter utilized as more than a political pawn. The raids convey a necessity for thoughtful national immigration policies which make clear that the nation is a proactive member of the international community and adheres to principles of human rights within its own borders. Immigration reform should also be influenced by a realistic acknowledgement of the effects of United States domestic and foreign policies abroad. Further in the execution of immigration law it is important that the nation uphold the fundamental rule of law on which it rests and upon which its legitimacy relies. More so, however, the recent raids again call for the necessity of a recollection of national values.
Of course, national security and public safety are of importance. However a lack of national security or ‘public safety’ are often caused by policies which leave the fundamental interests of people unaddressed. An execution of policies which are not informed by a current understanding of international relations or domestic policies encourage a hollow sense of security and revolving cycles of crises. Indeed the mass immigration from Central America is and ought to be treated as a humanitarian crises. The organized crime and extreme violence which brings many from South America to the nation’s border are inextricably connected to the United States foreign and domestic policies. Specifically, the effect of globalism, free market policies, and domestic drug policies can not be ignored in addressing the current humanitarian crisis. Further, the country can not be arbitrarily selective about to whom the policy of “family unity” shall apply. Forcing the departure of those who have fled massive violence and poverty, many of whom are women, children, and families, affects our nation’s international standing as an state which has adopted the United Nations ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights.’
Furthermore, in the enforcement of the immigration laws, the nation must abide by its own rule of law. The right of all to be free from unreasonable searches, afforded a meaningful opportunity to be heard by impartial a tribunal, present a defense, and seek relief, goes to the very core principles of our democracy. It is integral that summary procedures, egregious and invasive search raids inconsistent with the Constitution end immediately. Rather, should any enforcement take place at all, it must reflect lawful compliance with the Fourth Amendment, and respondent immigrants given reasonable time to secure counsel in order to explore the particular merits of their case. It is purported that the those being targeted are only those who are ‘criminal aliens’ or those with final orders of removal. However, it is clear that many with final orders of removal are women and children many of whom likely hold viable asylum, other humanitarian, or constitutional claims or defenses. Moreover, removing immigrants who are accused of committing crimes applying the broad definition of the word ‘crime’ as defined by the immigration laws, in no way serves the criminal law objectives of deterrence nor of rehabilitation.
Finally, the immigration raids and the recent xenophobic vitriol expressed nationally against immigrants and of those of differing beliefs mandates that the nation establish a realization of its values. In short, the national conversation must be elevated. Today, invoking xenophobic sentiments towards immigrants and religious minorities have tapped an effluvium of hate, irrational resentments, and misplaced anger. As a world acknowledged as a House there can be no “them” to blockade from the periphery of town, no suggestion to cast some in religious second class citizenship, nor silence plunder through enforcement. Therein the World House is enough for all. For we must move to our collective destiny. And as Dr. King foretold choose between an unavoidable ultimatum: “learn to live together as brother or together will be forced to perish as fools.”
Just as preventing entry to those who seek refuge upon the nation’s shores fall short of national values and international responsibilities, obtuse immigration enforcement, fails to acknowledge what Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King observed, ‘all inhabitants of the world are now neighbors.’ Let us consciously remain awake during this ‘great revolution’ with a liberative vision of Dr. King, holding a firm understanding of the task ahead informed by the Dr. King of 1968. There is a place for everyone. Let us make room.
COPYRIGHT: You may not reproduce, adapt, modify, communicate to the public, reproduce or otherwise use any part of this work without the express written permission from author Jenipher R. Jones.
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