So last week, my fellow Boston professors and I protested beside a statue of Charles Sumner, an abolitionist who nearly lost his life for rejecting the Fugitive Slave Act. We crossed Massachusetts Avenue to stand in the middle of the street. As a friend put it, we wanted to bridge the distance between law and justice with our bodies. Before we were arrested, the officers informed us that we were disturbing the peace. But the peace that we disturbed is but a veneer obscuring the injustices embedded in arbitrary immigration systems and institutional racism.
I was now a citizen, able to disturb the peace without fear of being thrown out of the country. While citizens and noncitizens alike are guaranteed the right to free speech, and I and other noncitizens have joined protests before, it’s never certain what impact an arrest — even for the misdemeanors of disturbing the peace — could have on one’s status or naturalization applications. In recent months, reports indicated that border agents asked travelers attempting to enter the United States about their political views and sometimes inspected their social media. Undocumented students and those with DACA, such as Daniela Vargas, who were arrested in protests, were threatened by ICE agents. Others, like Wendy Contreras, who do not fit the stated criteria for being a priority for deportation, were indeed deported. As of last week, I am now safe from the environment of fear and suspicion that so often prevents noncitizens from fully expressing their opinions and protesting measures that they find unjust. And my rights came with a duty to participate in the American tradition of disobedience from Harriet Tubman to Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez to Harvey Milk, from the Battle of Michigan Avenue to Standing Rock and many others.