On September 22, 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram to Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers (UFW).
For Dr. King, it was the height of the civil rights movement and a month before his death. For Chavez, it was the ascendancy of the UFW as they fought to secure collective bargaining agreements for farm workers in the grape fields of California.
The telegram read:
As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members. The fight for equality must be fought on many fronts – in the urban slums, in the sweat shops of the factories and fields. Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity. You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.
Dr. King’s lessons ring true to this day as all of us continue to fight for equality.
The immigration movement’s path to justice requires hands of fellowship from the most unlikely of places. For the rights of immigrants, powerful hands of fellowship have come from conservative Christian leaders and law enforcement.
Beginning with the truth that every human being is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) wrote, “Immigrants are made in the image of God and have supreme value with the potential to contribute greatly to society.”
A body of believers made up of more than 40 denominations and thousands of individual churches, the NAE has emerged as one of many powerful allies from the Christian community calling for, “A national immigration policy considerate of immigrants who are already here and who may arrive in the future and that its measures should promote national security and the general welfare in appropriate ways.”
Another ally is the chief law enforcement officer of the most conservative state in the union - Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. He exemplifies a law enforcement professional committed to the rule of law and the humane treatment of immigrants. In response to the Summer 2010 release of 1,300 names alleged to be undocumented, the Attorney General said, “This is not a blacklist, this is a hit list. We call upon the federal government to take the lead on comprehensive immigration reform.”
AG Shurtleff went on to lead the creation of the Utah Compact, a set of principles centered on the need for comprehensive reform. He has also traveled across the country making the case that immigration reform is smart law enforcement and is in the best interests of the nation. General Shurtleff has been joined by fellow Republican Attorney General in Indiana Greg Zoeller in this effort, and all over America the ranks of law enforcement officials calling for justice for immigrants are quickly growing.
In this time of economic insecurity, it is important to remember, “Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity.” Rather than allowing communities to turn on each other, we must remember our work is interdependent. Our issues may be different, but our goals will never be met unless people are free from suffering, treated with dignity, and in the end, treated as human beings. Or, as Chavez put it as he organized to protect farm workers, “The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”
I realize that alone, the immigration movement cannot reform our nation’s immigration system.
We take solace in – and guidance from - Dr. King’s words to Chavez, “We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized”. We recommit ourselves to building political power and forging new relationships so our immigration system serves the nation’s interests and provides justice for immigrants.
Our goal remains ensuring a better tomorrow for all Americans. We are honored by the support Dr. King gave to the farm worker movement, and inspired by the national monument commemorating his service to our great nation.