Last week, I dropped my kids off for their first day of school in our small Alabama town of not even 7,000 people. The kids were excited, but I was a nervous wreck.
My kids — ages 8 and 11 — are my heart and joy. Would they have everything they need?
Like every dad, my mind raced through a million scenarios. My oldest is starting middle school. What haven’t I anticipated? What might come up and wreck his whole day, setting the tone for the school year?
None of these came close to what families faced just a few hours west from us on their first day of school. In Scott County, Mississippi, 650 heavily armed agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) swarmed poultry processing facilities, arresting 680 immigrant workers. No company managers or executives were arrested or charged.
All across the county, kids came home to empty houses. Toddlers were abandoned in day care. One baby had to be sheltered in a church, because both of her parents were detained.
These are parents who, like me, woke up that morning, made a cup of coffee, took a brief moment to themselves before waking up the kids to lay out clothes, then made sure they ate breakfast, and had their lunches packed.
Then they loaded their kids up with school supplies and went to put in another day of work, so their children could have a better future.
They were aching to hear their kids’ first-day-of-school stories: about new friends, and which teachers they did or didn’t like. Just like me, they were planning dinner, and the new routines to accommodate school schedules. And they were thinking ahead to the weekend, how to enjoy these final days of summer: movies they might watch, cooking out, or going to the pool together.
None of those things are going to happen now. And we’re being told we’re safer because of it.
I’m not safer because my government has decided its top priority is to tear families apart for the sole purpose of stoking racial division. I’m not safer because my elected officials fuel the flames of white supremacy that motivate mass shooters to target Latinx shoppers at a Wal-Mart in El Paso.
The South is the most diverse region of the country, with a Latinx population of more than 22 million. Our rural communities are being revitalized by immigrants, who have often been recruited to move here by big agricultural and food processing companies, to do back-breaking work for substandard wages.
These are some of the hardest-working and most courageous people I know. They are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, and we will stand with them.
It is only through fear and corruption that right-wing extremists maintain their grip on power in our states. And I, for one, am sick of it.
The ACLU and immigrant rights groups all across the South are mobilizing to help these communities. As a member of Alabama’s Hometown Action and the People’s Action national network, I’m asking what we can do to support them. Not just in this moment, but long-term.
Alabama’s state motto is “we dare defend our rights.” This has sometimes been used to celebrate white supremacy, which was enshrined in our state’s constitution in 1901.
Today, we dare defend our right to inclusive communities. We dare to defend our right to happy families, and to live together in peace.
ICE, you are not welcome in our Alabama. Or in Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, or any other state of the South or our nation.
We dare defend our right to a world without ICE.
Justin Vest is the executive director of Hometown Action. He grew up in Alexander City, Alabama. This piece ran first at OurFuture.org and was distributed by OtherWords.org.