Let’s be clear, no one is illegal.

-Biola Jeje

by Biola Jeje

Growing up in Brooklyn as a child of Nigerian immigrants, I can remember being in church and listening to other Nigerian immigrants deliver testimonies about which son, aunt, cousin, or sister had won the visa lottery and would finally be able to come join them in the United States. Collective sighs of relief would follow and joy would radiate throughout the congregation. Everyone understood the struggles of having a loved one waiting to come to the U.S. Everyone understood how hard and life-changing it was.

I only came to see the true significance of this relief years later, and now I am a witness to so many people—many of whom arrived as children and have no recollection of the place that they’re being told is their homeland—living in fear of being cruelly sent back .

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This country, inhospitable as it is to Black people, is still sought out as a haven by many folks struggling to earn better lives for themselves and their families.

There are thousands of families like mine: Black immigrants who have to navigate both a new country and the racism within it.

This is why when we talk about passing a Clean Dream Act it is important to highlight how doing so also combats global anti-Blackness. The same ideology that builds prisons and pipelines mostly Black students into the carceral system also keeps Black immigrants in fear of being sent to a detention center and subsequently deported. Fighting one side of the problem is inherently a stand against the other. And, in many cases, Black immigrants have to worry about both.

“Black immigrants comprise just 5 percent of the overall immigrant population, but 21 percent of those deported as a result of criminal contact,” says Carl Lipscombe, deputy director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “[A similar disparity] holds true when we look at detention rates.”

This is why on October 5th, as part of United We Dream’s day of action to demand a Clean Dream Act, I held a sit-in along with three other activists at the office of Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX). There, I was arrested along with folks who knew someone who had been deported or who would be positively impacted by the passage of the Dream Act. Hurd represents a border town district in Texas that is 70% Latinx. Not only do his constituents need a path to citizenship, they would be negatively impacted by measures to further militarize the border.

I sat in because Black and Brown people are in intersecting struggles, because the same people who benefit from incarcerating us benefit from deporting us, and we have to stand together against both.

A Clean Dream Act would provide a real path to citizenship for people already here, would not allow for the further incarceration of immigrants — or throw millions toward an increasingly militarized border — and would not rip families apart.

As it stands now, over 800,000 undocumented youth are being used as leverage in a Congressional fight that is really about how Trump can sneak in more policies that hurt Black and Brown communities. It’s an all-too-common example of the tactic of using the narrative of “deserving” or “innocent” immigrants against those that are “illegal.”

Let’s be clear, no one is illegal. This divide and conquer gambit needs to be combated with solidarity amongst Black citizens and immigrants.

A Clean Dream Act looks like a bill that isn’t used as a Trojan horse for measures that would further criminalize Black and Brown people in the U.S. It would include a path to a more permanent status that isn’t derailed by minor mistakes like forgetting to update an address, and would not take close to two decades to happen.

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I got arrested at Congressman Will Hurd’s office because I know that if we do not do something now to stop deportations and keep families together, it will only going to get worse. Already we are hearing more and more stories of ICE agents behaving just like police, killing innocent people as they attempt to arrest them under deportation orders.

As an adult, I now has a deeper understanding of the privilege I hold, having had citizenship since childhood. I understand that it is imperative for all of us all to stand up for those just trying to lead decent lives in this country. Our struggles really are all connected, and the sooner we respect each other’s struggles, the stronger we will all be.

Biola Jeje is an organizer, writer, and digital strategist.  Her writings have appeared in The Nation, InTheseTimes, Alternet, Dollars and Sense, The Root, and more. For more visit biolajeje.com.

A version of this essay was originally published on the author’s Medium blog.