The pictures of angry protestors turning away a busload of children in Murrieta, CA, last week said more than any oped about what the failure of immigration reform means. Everyone was angry: the American flag-draped Murrieta residents shouting at the children to “go back to Mexico” (where few of them are actually from) and the immigrant rights activists who saw the demonstration as proof of the racist sentiments of the anti-immigration movement.
Occurring as these demonstrations did nearly 50 years to the day after President Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act, I couldn’t help but recall that similar pictures helped create the impetus for passage of the 1964 civil rights legislation. In the two years leading up to the adoption of the bill, civil rights demonstrators faced ugly mobs shouting epithets and hurling stones, while police stood passively by, or worse, turned on fire hoses to drive away the protestors. But the pictures of those mobs actually awakened the conscience of America and ensured that Congress would act.
I’m not suggesting that the kids on the buses (or their moms) are the equivalent of the Freedom Riders who demonstrated against state-sponsored segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. But there is at least one similarity. Both groups were comprised of lawbreakers– segregation was written into state laws throughout the South. Today, we sometimes fail to remember that not every law is a good one. When we’re faced with bad laws, we need to change them. And current immigration law qualifies, not because it is immoral but because it serves neither America’s economic interests nor our ideals.