Yesterday’s despicable actions by a rioting fringe minority at the U.S. Capitol building felt like an assault on the very foundation of our country’s democratic system. It shook me to my core, as I’m sure it did many of you. How could this happen in our country? It wasn’t “just” the insurrectionists storming the Capitol, strutting through the rotunda and mocking our nation’s history, but also the petulant, disturbed enablers of the violence whose false words incited rioters, throwing rhetorical gasoline on the fires of hatred in the service of nothing more than political expediency.
This is an unbelievably dark moment in history. As my friend and AILA Executive Committee colleague Jeremy McKinney put it, yesterday’s attack represented “the apex of white privilege” as rioters sauntered virtually unchecked into the Capitol building; in some cases, police literally opened the doors for them! A far cry from the reaction to peaceful racial justice protesters only a few short months ago. Those protesters, who were calling only for acknowledgment and responsibility, for justice and for fairness, were tear-gassed, and pelted with rubber bullets and weapons, as legions of guards in riot gear circled them. If only there had been such a vigilant law enforcement presence yesterday, how different the result might have been. Sadly, it looks like a group of white people threatening to overturn the results of the presidential election by force was a far less terrifying a prospect than black and brown people protesting the deaths of innocents and calling for justice and equality before the law.
I was proud to watch the majority of elected officials of this country stand up for the ideals of democracy and the peaceful transition of power as the Senate and House moved forward with certifying the election results into the wee hours of the morning. I found myself nodding along to the words of leaders from both parties, glad that the majority on both sides of the aisle saw what I saw. That they weren’t blinded by the delusions of a demagogue, that they were instead outraged and unwilling to let a mob cause them to falter in their defense of the Constitution and their obligations to do the job they were elected to do.
So what next? Hopefully, there will be swift and deliberate justice for those responsible for these despicable actions. But this entire debacle points us back to the longer term work of our nation that is so overdue. The reality is that in this country law enforcement continues to treat people of color differently, and we MUST renew our commitment to racial justice and equity. We must bring people together, united in the common principles of equal justice, fairness and due process upon which this country was built, but which we’ve never managed to quite fully embody.
Yesterday was an inflection point. We must heed the call of this moment and use it to re-dedicate ourselves to our core democratic principles and to what binds us together as a nation – the common commitment to equal justice before the law.
Like many of you, I am looking forward to January 20. Not just for the hope of better immigration policy, but for the hope of a renewed dedication to a shared prosperity and to equality of opportunity. But political leadership alone isn’t going to accomplish what is necessary to restore the American dream. Yes, we need true leaders who will guide us with integrity and inspire us toward a better future, but we also have to do our own individual part – in our daily lives, our own homes, our own communities – to take action to destroy the systemic, institutional, and insidious racism that allows events like yesterday to occur in 21st century America. Like Congress, we as individual citizens and as immigration lawyers have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work. I look forward to working with each of you, and with the new administration, to do this work. I could not be prouder to be in this fight with you.