Would Martin Luther King Jr. support the DREAM Act?


King photo from historylink.org

The birthday of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has made me wonder what he would think of the debate over immigration in the United States.

Would Dr. King fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants or the DREAM Act?

I couldn't find any specific references on this topic. But here is one passage from King from his "Letter from Birmingham Jail"  in April 1963 that speaks to his fight for equality for all.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

The last part of the quote is most relevant to immigration.

I do believe that King would fight for the DREAM Act that would create a pathway to legalization for undocumented youth brought here as children. They should not be treated as "outsiders," as King might say, but given an opportunity to become equal members of our society.

I believe he would be outraged that the state of Virginia is considering a law to ban undocumented students from attending college there. In most states undocumented students do not qualify for in-state tuition. And they do not qualify for federal financial aid.

So to ban them from paying for college out of their own pocket is just mean-spirited. They are punishing these youth who did not come to this country of their own choice.  They were educated in our public schools and it makes no sense to ban them from a college or university.

South Carolina has already barred undocumented students from public colleges and Georgia has barred them from several schools. Alabama has prohibited undocumented students from attending community colleges, according to an Associated Press story.

But there are 11 states that do allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges or universities.

I believe that King would be an advocate for immigration reform. He would defend the rights of undocumented workers exploited from the factories to the fields.

A modern-day discussion of civil rights should include undocumented immigrants. The DREAM Act youth are waging their own battle and did not see the Senate pass the legislation in December. However, a bill did pass in the House.

But with Republicans gaining seats in Congress change will be slower to come. Also some Democrats did not support the DREAM Act and they are also to blame for its failure.

It took decades for women to earn the right to vote and for the end of Jim Crow laws. It will take more time for immigration reform, hopefully not decades.

But I believe that we cannot stop fighting for the rights of undocumented youth who are culturally American and have so much to contribute to this nation.

It's important that people of all backgrounds, black, white, Latino and Asian join in this movement.

There are Latino organizations across the country doing community service today in honor of Dr. King, according to the civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza.

There should be more efforts to bring together Latino and African-American leaders to discuss immigration reform.

We cannot forget Dr. King's message.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.

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