I recently attended my friend Hemant’s naturalization ceremony in a courthouse in Burlington. He and his wife became American citizens that day.
Hemant had peacefully criticized the monarchy in his home country, and the government retaliated. His family was threatened and exiled. They arrived here as refugees.
It’s a powerful reminder that the principles on which our nation was founded, the rights and liberties we are promised, are not universal, and must be protected.
I went to the ceremony expecting to feel joy. Instead, my overriding emotion was relief that with citizenship, Hemant and his family are, by one significant measure, safe. Nobody can make them leave.
Recently, Alex Carrillo was arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, outside a courthouse in Burlington. Two days later, Enrique Balcazar and Zully Palacios were arrested. All three have been active in Migrant Justice, an organization working on behalf of the roughly fifteen hundred migrant farmworkers in our state. Migrant Justice claims ICE targeted Alex, Enrique, and Zully for their activism.
Most migrant farmworkers work on our state’s dairy farms, cornerstones of Vermont’s economy and identity, so I wondered why I wasn’t hearing farmers speak out against these arrests, and I asked a friend, whose family has farmed here for generations, why this was.
He said it was out of concern for the safety of immigrant workers on his family’s farm.
Let me spell that out. He, a white Vermonter, is afraid that if he speaks out against targeted arrests of farmworkers, ICE, a federal agency, will retaliate by targeting workers on his family’s farm for arrest and deportation.
I was stunned to realize that his silence is actually an act of protection.
So it’s essential for those of us who are secure in our rights and can speak up safely do so in behalf of those who cannot. When things get hot, their courage exposes them. Broad participation is the key to keeping our community from unraveling.
A vindictive monarchy targets dissenters like Hemant, strips them of human rights, and sends them into exile.
This doesn’t happen in a democracy.
But without the rights of citizenship, neighbors like Alex, Enrique, and Zully must depend on the rest of us to challenge policies that target, retaliate, or engage in bias against any group or individual - even – and perhaps especially - in a democracy.