http://pastorjohnwagner.com/I spent five years working for Texas' prison system right out of high school. From ages 18-23 I went by Officer Douglas, Sergeant Douglas and finally Lieutenant Douglas before I escaped the Texas Prison system. My time working behind bars was very valuable-- seeing the injustice, confusion, corruption, anger and apathy. I heard the stories of inmates who'd tried crystal meth for the first time in middle school. My first question was "How'd you even know what crystal meth was?" Then there was the guy who helped keep the lights on at home by selling and holding drugs for the neighborhood dealers as a child. I began to realize there was a bigger problem at hand than the individual criminal acts of the inmates, a larger structural, societal deficit.
I remember my first day, July 15th 2010, when I put on my dark gray uniform with the shiny gold name tag that read "Officer Douglas" and made my way toward the entrance of the C.T. Terrell Unit in Rosharon I'll admit, I was nervous as I entered the building and heard the loud roar of indistinct chatter that echoed the hall that spanned a length longer than a full city block. The fear I expected to feel as I entered the main hall and looked around was replaced with odd confusion! It was sobering--It reminded me of high school! The inmates that walked down the hall donning white uniforms had faces that were mostly Black and Brown. Additionally, many of them were around my age! On my second day, I ran into Randy Thomas who was in my algebra class in high school. How did this happen? How did so many Black and Brown people end up behind bars? I initially thought perhaps they'd assigned me to the minority unit or something. Boy was I wrong: they're all minority units. I've outlined 4 reasons I believe Blacks should support immigration reform.
Black and Brown people need to see that they're in the same boat and often on the same cell block. Now, I'm not advocating some gang-esque, racially driven campaign AGAINST Whites and other races. Instead, I'm looking at the benefits a solid force would bring across the nation for people that come from neighborhoods like mine, no matter their race. There were White folks and Asians living on Selinsky Street in South Park where I grew up, but not too many. I tendered my resignation to my warden on July 15, 2010 after exactly five years behind bars to go "reconstruct the edifice."
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ”
Now, back to the subject at hand: Immigration Reform's
1. LARGER VOTING BASE
The minority voting block is dying off across the nation. It's a fact. I remember my great-grandmother, "Bama," sitting on her little power scooter waiting in line for hours just to cast her vote. It was a duty. She'd lived through the church bombings of the sixties and the poll taxes aimed to snatch the ballot from her hands. The vote was sacred among her generation. My grandmother, "Granny," had the same attitude towards voting. Sadly, neither of them are alive today and the family members bearing their blood and their last names don't feel the same way about voting. People across all income levels and races want the same things: good-paying jobs, well funded schools, and clean water coming out of our faucets. In poorer neighborhoods, however, they get the least of these things because they're not signing up to speak at city hall or taking half a day off to vote. The kitchen table issues of the Jenkins family and the Garcia family often go unheard because we're at work, headed to work, or just getting home from work. We must come together and reclaim a strong voting block locally, within our respective states and nationwide. We need to elect school board members that fund the marching band programs at high schools that lead to scholarships at Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern University instead of sentences at the state pen. An idle mind is the devil's workshop--at least that's what Granny used to say. By joining forces with our Brown brothers and sisters for this issue that's morally just as well, we strengthen our ties and allow an opportunity to truly understand each other and organize.
2. STRONGER ECONOMY AND HIGHER WAGES
When your next-door neighbor is forced to live in the shadows because of their immigrant status and work for greedy employers who take advantage of our broken immigration system by paying them pennies on the dollar, your wages are therefore lower than they potentially could be. Whether it be our national minimum wage that keeps so many from keeping the lights on and putting food on the table, or prevailing wage when it comes to contracts to build the new school in the neighborhood, we must stick together. Trust me, if the minimum wage was $3.00 an hour, WalMart would pay their cashiers $3.50 an hour. By eliminating the need to working under the table, we uphold wages for hard workers across the nation. I recently met a young married couple with a young baby at a #Fightfor15 protest where fast-food workers were demanding a living wage. They were both enrolled at Houston CAN Academy where they're aiming to get their GED soon. Although the odds are against them being young parents and working for minimum wage, they're going against the grain and trying. The mother told me they both bring home roughly $250 every two weeks on payday totaling somewhere around $500 for the both of them. How could it be possible to work full-time in the wealthiest nation on earth and bring home $250 for two weeks worth of work? With immigration reform, this family would have a better chance at livable wages. I believe our argument for a higher minimum wage would be stronger by pulling our brothers and sisters out of the shadows by supporting immigration reform with a path to citizenship.
3. END PIPELINE TO PRISON
Take a trip to some of the poorest neighborhoods in your city and you'll find the worst schools, the most ragged streets and children with the potential to be great if given the chance. To reiterate my initial point, we have so much in common. When a child grows up living in poverty with no obvious escape, the odds are against them. Over 80% of Houston Independent School District's students are economically disadvantaged meaning they qualify for free or reduced lunch. With so many Black and Brown people living in the areas around some of our most underfunded schools, there's no wonder our elected officials vote to slash funding. To truly end the pipeline to prison that pushes students from poor schools off to lives of prison and poverty, we must increase our voter base and build cohesion between our two cultures. While living in Austin and working at the State Capitol, I'd taken a quick break to go get my haircut. As I walked down the sidewalk in East Austin (where the poor people live) I noticed a young Black mother with her two children approaching. One of the children had to be about five years old and the other was still a toddler. As I got closer, the five year old looked up to her mother and said "Look mom, he's going to church and it's not Sunday." Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Through the little girl's innocent eyes, she was revealing the fact that the only time she'd seen a Black man with a suit was when he was going to church. Does this mean nobody in her surroundings work at a bank or a school where they dress business casual? If this young girl never meets an architect in her neighborhood, how can we expect her to dream to be one? Immigration reform will become a catalyst for change in our communities. Together.
4. IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO
MLK once said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Black folks have a history of fighting for what's right. A quick thumb through your history book (unless you live in the south) will show a track record of standing on the right side of arguments. Although immigration reform doesn't affect us at the surface, think about the families that are separated when a mother and/or father are sent back to their home country leaving their US born children behind. I remember one of my friends I met while living in Austin named Efrain. He was one of the crew and would join the other 3 friends one the weekends when we'd go out. Oddly, sometimes after waiting in line to get into some places, he'd disappear. At first, I thought this was because Efrain was impatient. I later found out he didn't have US issued ID and didn't want to risk it at the doors of some places. Additionally I later found out Efrain couldn't drive. I'd asked him to circle the block while I ran in to drop off a package at the post office since there wasn't any parking when he explained he didn't have a license. Efrain who's lived here as long as he could remember found out while applying to colleges that he wasn't a US citizen. Now what's he supposed to do? I speak better Spanish than Efrain, yet he was deported in 2011 and currently lives in Mexico--A place he'd never been before in his adult life.
Sign the petition, do your research and add to the momentum calling for Immigration Reform with a pathway to citizenship for those here today. Here's an interesting read with more about the benefits of immigration reform for workers.