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Letter from HF President: Dr. Martin Luther King Shows Us The Way

January 22, 2016 – Good morning. Buenos Dias. Let me begin by expressing my deepest gratitude to the King family, the King Center and Dr. Bernice King for the privilege, honor and blessing to be part of this year’s Martin Luther King Day celebration. Like many of you here, my life and work has been shaped and guided by the spirit of Dr. King’s and Mrs. King’s advocacy, mission and philosophy. To say this moment is of great significance in my life is a real understatement.

I’m the President of the Hispanic Federation, a national network of Latino nonprofit organizations working on the front lines of advancing social justice. In preparing for today, I spent time reflecting on the centrality of Dr. King’s legacy to everything we do and stand for. I thought in particular of the joint civil rights struggles of the African-American and Latino community, and how Dr. King and Mrs. King understood at their core, that justice, equality and freedom was not the purview or right of one group. It belonged to all of us! It belonged to all of us or there could simply be no real peace or justice. And certainly this mighty couple for social reform knew that we all had a stake and duty to fight for those rights. As Dr. King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!”

Now, we know that the intertwined histories of the African American and Latino communities are as old as our nation—in some cases even older.

I think of the decades old battles against income inequality, housing discrimination and educational segregation.

And the ongoing fights around voting rights, criminal justice reform, living wage, affordable housing and affordable health care.

The truth is that our shared history of struggle in this nation deserves to be commemorated and celebrated, particularly on this day when we honor Dr. King’s legacy.

Now, I feel compelled in the spirit of Dr. King, who never passed up an opportunity to mobilize for action and social change, to ask for your help in addressing another injustice.

About 1,000 miles and less than a day’s drive from Atlanta, thousands of children from Central America are arriving at the border between the United States and Mexico. They often arrive alone after having endured a long and terrifying journey during which they are subjected to depravation and abuse. There are frequently no fathers to protect them. No mothers to console them. They are alone. And when, through an act of sheer will and no small amount of God’s mercy, they arrive at our border looking for hope and succor, they are corralled into holding cells by our government, they are processed by courts without the benefit of legal representation, and they are sent back to the very countries from which they have risked their lives to escape.

As the leader of a civil rights organization, as an immigrant, as a father, and as a follower of Dr. King’s life view, the treatment of these children commands me to raise my voice and act!

In recent years, the United States has been mired in the turgid waters of anti-immigrant politics.

Our immigration system is broken and Congress has refused to fix it.

Our national political candidates have abandoned talk of mercy and compassion toward immigrants in favor of words like punishment and deportation.

Our national culture, once encouraged by the arrival of immigrants, has become deeply and, increasingly, violently xenophobic.

Against this backdrop of government inaction, verbal violence, and abandonment of principles, the poor treatment and turning back of unaccompanied minors at our border may seem like common place in today’s America.

And, it may very well give off a shrug in some quarters of our nation, but it can never be accepted.

Not by us. Not by those of us who follow in the footsteps of the great man whose memory we honor today.

The children who arrive at our borders are there through no fault of their own. They are the victims of what Dr. King once called, “unmerited suffering.”

They are citizens of nations made weak by poverty, corruption, and, all too often, the policies of our own government here in the United States.

They are forced to choose between hope and hopelessness, between life and death.

Today, I ask you to join me in becoming a creative force on behalf of the thousands of children who are arriving at our southern border.

To join me in calling on the White House and Congress to extend temporary protective status – and a humane federal policy of integration - for these boys and girls that honors our values as Americans.

To lend your voices - powerful voices forged in the cauldron of our nation's ongoing civil rights movement - to children who have no voice.

This issue – like so many others still mired in injustice – beckons us to work together, to realize the dream of Dr. King. As our great drum major for righteousness said, the issues of civil and human rights cannot be separated. “Injustice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Thank you.