I watched with mixed emotions as my elected representatives rushed to the aid of immigrants and refugees whose rights had been violated by the Trump administration.
They were right to speak out. President Trump’s temporary ban on people from seven majority-Muslim countries was unconstitutional. That’s why it was no surprise when thousands of ordinary citizens joined with city, state and federal officials to protest at airports where immigrants were being detained.
But even as an African-American who supports the rights of those who legally come to this country, it was hard for me to watch the same politicians who are silent on the shootings of unarmed blacks run breathlessly to the aid of foreigners.
I’ve heard from many African-Americans who share that same frustration. Not only because our politicians stand up for immigrants and fail to do so for us, but also because we’ve all encountered immigrants who look down on the black community while at the same time seeking our help.
Those dynamics create tensions that are real, and I’d be lying if I failed to acknowledge them. But I need black people to hear me when I say this: Joining this fight is not only about protecting immigrants. It is about protecting the Constitution, because the same Fifth Amendment that grants due process and equal protection to immigrants grants those same rights to us.
And in the age of Donald Trump, we’re going to need those rights.
“If the feds instituted a national stop-and-frisk policy, that would be a Fifth Amendment claim,” Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union told me. “Can they single out people they don’t like and exclude them from due process? What if they said a cop on site can take your driver’s license? That’s the equivalent of this. He starts with the most vulnerable group, but – not to put too fine a point on it – you aren’t too far behind.”
I agree with Roper’s assessment. Trump’s strategy seems to involve casting vulnerable groups as the enemy. After he targets immigrants and religious minorities, blacks and other people of color likely will be next.
If those groups can be turned against one another, we are all weakened, and that makes us easier targets.
That’s why it’s dangerous for African-Americans to say the immigration battle is not our fight. Especially since some of those immigrants are black.
“A lot of people affected by the order are people who would be coming from Africa,” Ajmel Quereshi, of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told me in an interview. “And a lot of those people would say they are African-American. The executive order applies to Sudan and Somalia. There are large communities in the U.S. from those countries, and they consider themselves part of the African American community.
“Second, in a more metaphorical sense, the executive order … discriminates against people based on national origin. The 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause protects against that, and the 14th Amendment has been an essential protection for African-Americans throughout the 20th century. If we were to cut away from that, who’s to say we wouldn’t see a cutting away (of rights) in the African-American community in the United States?”
For me, that’s the key question facing the black community. Are we willing to sacrifice our own rights by refusing to stand up for the rights of others?
I hope not, because blacks fought in every American war to secure those rights. And if we rest on the fact that the 14th Amendment granted full citizenship to formerly enslaved people following the Civil War, if we think the battle is over because that amendment granted due process and equal treatment to all persons, then our fight has been for nothing. Complacency has won the day.
The battle over immigration is a fight for the Constitution – a document that’s been paid for with the blood of many Americans. We honor their sacrifice when we stand for the rights of others. And when we stand for the rights of others, we stand up for ourselves.
If there are tensions between blacks and immigrants, we should resolve them while fighting side by side for the Constitution that protects us all; we should quell them while remembering that prejudice is our enemy; we should face them with the knowledge that we’re stronger when we’re unified.
Because after this battle is over, there will be others.
Trump’s false claim that millions voted illegally is most likely a precursor to voting-rights restrictions. His attacks on federal employees will expand to other workers. His rants against Black Lives Matter are the first steps to curtailing protests.
So, yes, fighting Donald Trump’s travel ban is absolutely a black issue.
We aren’t fighting only for immigrants. We’re fighting for our very lives.
The writer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.