I join so many others who are welcoming the U.S. Congress’ and President Biden’s acknowledgment of the importance of Juneteenth by making it a federal holiday and beginning to recognize its impact.
Juneteenth isn’t something that’s been on the radar screen of many Americans. As a first generation American, I had to research what Juneteenth meant and why it was significant for black people in the US. Here’s what I know about it:
- Juneteenth has been a holiday in the State of Texas since 1979.
- Juneteenth is known by different names: Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Emancipation Day.
- The name is a combination of June and 19th, the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas first learned about the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
- Immediately after finding out about their freedom, the former slaves prayed, sang and danced to celebrate. Subsequent celebrations were observed by the singing of negro spirituals, donning of new clothes, and prayers. As the former slaves spread out from Texas, they took the celebration with them. The gatherings expanded to include parades, fairs, and historical and musical presentations.
- Juneteenth was a sacred and joyous gathering to mark the end of slavery in Texas. For a two-and-a-half-year period after slavery ended, Texas along with other Confederate states allowed slave owners to flout federal law.
As an immigration attorney, the reality I see every day is that Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are detained at higher rates, deported at higher rates, and face far greater challenges having their fair day in court. The legacies of enslavement and oppression that continue to plague Black and Brown people in the United States are intricately linked to the systems put in place during slavery and into the Jim Crow Era.
As we get ready to celebrate this “new” federal holiday, let’s not forget the human suffering that sits behind it. Since its establishment in 1983, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has NOT been a day off for many, as the black community, joined by some white allies, recognized it as a day of service. Unfortunately, as time has passed, for many the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service has devolved into a day of rest and a day of sales rather than a day to recognize the hard-fought achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serve the community in the manner that he did. For this first federally recognized Juneteeth, let’s mark a day of reflection and research. Start here.
I encourage my fellow immigration attorneys to look for other legislation to support that would acknowledge where we have failed to ensure justice and equality such as re-establishment of the Voting Rights Act through the For the People Bill, The Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act, and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act among others.
I also ask all of you to work with me to ensure equitable treatment under our nation’s immigration laws. One easy thing to do right now is to urge the Senate to pass the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.