From the Field

North Carolina Youth Draw Inspiration from Civil Rights Movement

Guest Blogger • Oct 19, 2011

By Domenic Powell

Photo: Justin Valas

The movement for immigrant rights is finding strength in the South. In North Carolina, we’ve known all along that this is where it should come from. This is a state with a long history of systemic injustice; on our side, we have a long history of fighting against it. When we fight against racism, we develop a legacy of struggle from which to learn.

On the anti-immigrant side of the ledger, they have politicians that are willing to undermine the law in order to advance their agenda. Representative Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), who is now pushing the NC Defense of Marriage Act, attempted to bully undocumented students out of school by forcing them to reveal their immigration status to school officials. Rep. Cleveland (R-Onslow) attempted to ban undocumented students from post-secondary education with HB11.

Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) signed HB 36, legislation that increased the use of E-Verify throughout the state. Then there are the anti-immigrant groups like ALIPAC, NCFIRE and NC Listen that appeal to race and stoke nativist fears. William Gheen, the president of ALIPAC, recently claimed that the president was inching toward a conflict with “White America,” using undocumented immigrants as soldiers in a race war. NC FIRE publishes a monthly “Illegal Alien Crime Report” which does little beyond highlighting Hispanic names to bolster its evidence. A look through the reports will show that many of the highlighted names do not reveal anything about the status of the arrested individuals, meaning NC FIRE used little criteria beyond having a Hispanic name to merit being included in the report.

On our side, we have undocumented youth who are taking a stand. In the face of so much hate, there has never been a better time to organize. The lines are clearly drawn. Where partisan strategies have failed, undocumented immigrants are organizing themselves with greater urgency.

Better said, the campaign for immigration reform has ended in favor of a new movement for rights. There are clear gains to be made in state and federal law: other than fighting for a path to legal status, undocumented youth are fighting against the prohibitive cost of college education in North Carolina, as well as a policy that requires community college students who are undocumented to wait until all other students have registered before signing up for classes.

On behalf of themselves and their communities, undocumented youth are also fighting back against ICE ACCESS programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities.

And so that has led the NC DREAM Team and other grassroots organizations across the South to draw upon the civil rights movement for inspiration and tactics. Civil disobedience in support of racial justice has been revived. The strongest stands are being made in North Carolina, in Georgia and beyond. In a movement led by youth, the future is on their side.

Earlier this month, when undocumented youth took to the streets in Charlotte to protest, they were fighting back against not only an unjust community college policy, not only against racism, not only against half-hearted allies, but against everything that has stood in their way thus far.

Not only is this a movement for progress, but also reclamation.

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