By Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz
“Abolish ICE!” chanted Des Moines Black Lives Matter protesters as they marched towards the Hardin County Jail, the Iowa county jail which houses the largest number of immigrants being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the state. “They’re people too! Free them from their cages!” they shouted.
“Is immigration a Black Lives Matter issue?” some might be asking. Of course it is. The Black Lives Matter movement is arguably the most intersectional movement in modern history. One that centers the liberation movement around the most vulnerable lives.
Protecting Black lives means doing everything possible to protect Black trans lives. Likewise, protecting our migrant communities means doing everything possible to protect Black and Indigenous immigrants and refugees. By protecting the most vulnerable lives, we protect all lives.
This means that non-Black people of color who are not facing the threat of deportation, like myself, should be marching alongside BLM. We should be arm-in-arm with these activists demanding that we eliminate these oppressive and violent systems that are used to incarcerate us and tear our families apart.
Demanding that we free all of the kids in cages and demanding justice for our undocumented friends and family means challenging police and institutional violence and racism. We need each other–I can tell you from experience that when we have the courage to challenge these powers, we are met with even more violence.
On Monday, June 22nd I was arrested in Des Moines for standing in solidarity with the Black community at a nonviolent protest. The police engaged in immoral “kettling” techniques in order to silence us. We were asked to leave but were blocked in all directions. Many of us were beaten with shields, tackled to the ground, and pepper-sprayed. For what? For demanding that we restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Americans who have served their time. A week later Des Moines police were using pictures and social media to track down and arrest BLM organizers. They will continue to use these invasive and immoral tactics to squash our movements, especially if we don’t work together.
We have to protect each other. We need bodies. We need solidarity.
Our nation’s oppressors’ biggest fear is a movement that is driven by true intersectionality and solidarity. One that works to dismantle the systems that criminalize survival and race. One that addresses the cultural oppression that has been ingrained in our daily lives.
This is why the President, our Governor, and the police fear the Black Lives Matter movement. These organizers are intersectional, strategic, and effective.
For the past month I have had the honor of supporting the work of Des Moines Black Lives Matter. I’ve also been following the work of Black activists and abolitionists across the nation. What I’ve seen is true leadership that has a vision for a just society for all. I’ve learned so much from these leaders and now understand that as an immigrant and refugee rights activist, being there to protect Black lives is a part of my responsibility and will only help strengthen my work to support families.
Armed and militarized police do not protect us. Cops don’t stop someone from breaking into your home, you call them after your house was broken into and then do little to find the perpetrator. They don’t stop mass shootings, they stop nonviolent protests. Cops are too busy arresting someone for small amounts of marijuana and bullying Black and Indigenous people to truly be protecting and serving.
In Iowa, ICE and the police work together–we have to do the same. We have the capacity to build an infrastructure that is truly just and is driven by community. Now more than ever we can start building community support and start funding the resources that will actually help us. We can allocate funds to our schools, to mental health professionals, to trained unarmed community response teams. We can build relationships with one another and provide sanctuary to those who are unjustly persecuted.
If we can be there for your neighbors today, they will be there for us tomorrow.