Fran: How long can we stand by and watch?

My name is Fran Ansley.  I am a retired law professor and I have lived in East Tennessee for forty years.  I am here with my fellow Knoxvillian, Alex Guizar, to welcome the “No Papers No Fear” Bus Riders for Justice, and to thank them for coming to help us make Knoxville a safer, more democratic, and more welcoming community.

For months now Alex and I have been working -- along with a broad array of other individuals and organizations -- to try to alert the people of Knox County and our sheriff, J.J. Jones, to the danger of programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities.  Programs like these entangle local police, deputies and jailers in the dirty work of enforcing a broken, unjust and hypocritical immigration system.  They invite and encourage racial profiling, they undermine the ability of local police to carry out what is supposed to be their primary mission, they tear families apart, and they create a reign of fear for many Latino immigrants and their loved ones.

Despite receiving many and repeated calls and visits from concerned community members over the course of several months, Sheriff Jones has not yet been willing even to discuss these matters face-to-face with the affected community.  Instead he has refused any direct conversation, pushing it off over and over until some vague future date, as though there were not many pressing issues that would benefit greatly from immediate discussion -- and as though he owes the community no explanations and has no need of the important information they are attempting to provide -- until after even more decisions are already made.

Meanwhile, the arrests and deportations grind on.  And in far too many cases -- a breathtaking number of cases -- these are deportations of people accused of no serious crime, people who far from being threats to community security are making daily positive contributions to our common life.  So as this mass deportation process grinds on, families continue to be ripped apart, serious crimes go too often unattended, and vulnerable workers continue to be abused with impunity because they are afraid to bring their complaints into the light.  These are conditions that are toxic for true democracy, toxic for the workplace rights of immigrant and non-immigrant workers alike, toxic for the racial climate, toxic for all that is best in the American tradition.

In this atmosphere, I must tell you that I wake up many mornings asking myself how long a white, native-born citizen like myself should continue to accept business as usual.  How long should I be content to speak with small groups of people about these concerns as I can find the time or stir the interest, all the while knowing that far too few people have yet received the information or heard the stories that might move them to get informed and involved?  How long should a person like me stand by watching while a new racialized underclass is created in our midst by broken immigration policies and federal gridlock, and soon harnessed to the political or financial profit of those willing to take advantage?

So maybe you can see why I was deeply moved when I heard about the “No Papers No Fear” bus riders and their journey. At great risk they had stepped out of the shadows -- out of the dungeon of fear and into the public square.  At least for themselves, and from a position of much greater risk, they had answered the question of “How long?” with “No longer.”  As undocumented people they were standing up to say, “No longer in the shadows.  No longer in hiding.  No Papers, No Fear.”

And maybe you can see why I was even more excited when I learned soon afterward that they were coming right here to Knoxville.  They had heard about the impasse reached in local efforts to win even a first conversation with Sheriff Jones.  And they had decided to help us bring news to the people of Knox County and to Sheriff Jones about the human cost of the deportation machine.

Well, Sheriff Jones, well, people of Knoxville:  Here they are!  Here are the bus riders of No Papers No Fear, bringing to you and to all of us this important news, bringing to you their very bodies, putting themselves on the line.  Now what are you going to do?

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