When I Cast My Ballot on Election Day, I Voted for Human Rights
(Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA)
As the challenges facing human rights progress are vast, it is crucially important to acknowledge victories that bring us closer to a world where human rights are a reality for all. The passage of the Maryland Dream Act manifested our belief that education is something that we value, and that immigrant families deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. It was our chance to say 'yes' to an initiative that moved the state of immigrant rights in the United States forward. Yes to the right to education, yes to fairness. When the Maryland Dream Act was affirmed on November 6th, we said yes, regardless of where people are born, we know that they are valuable members of our communities who are fully capable of giving back.
Perhaps above all, Marylanders said yes to the amazing young people who are on the frontlines of the movement for immigrants’ rights. I've been inspired by so many courageous undocumented youth who have put their futures on the line over the last few years so that everyone has the same opportunity to learn and to contribute. What happened on November 6th in Maryland was part of a much broader struggle, and this victory is just one step toward reforming the immigration system nationally so that it respects human rights.
In this struggle I’ve been inspired by people like Claudia, a high school senior whose dream is to go to college, study neurology, and pursue a career in medicine. Claudia has lived in Maryland for seven years, and has not only excelled in school, but has become someone that peers, teachers, and parents alike view as a leader. A few weeks ago, Claudia told me that if the Maryland Dream Act had been rejected, she would have had to leave Maryland in order to pursue her education somewhere that she could afford it, where her opportunities would have been far more limited. When we said yes to the Dream Act on November 6th, we told Claudia that we want her leadership here in our state, that we want her to stay with her family, and that we respect her desire to give back to the community that helped to raise her.
We are fortunate to have young leaders like Jonathan, who is not only undocumented and unafraid, but is also willing to stand strong and fight for the right to love whoever he loves. He is one of many young leaders bringing LGBT and immigrant communities together in solidarity, raising his powerful voice not despite, but because of the fact that his human rights are on the line. There is great power in working together, because the implications of human rights extend across all boundaries and touch us all. As he said at a recent Amnesty International conference, “If we can join together and fight for the same things, even if you’re not undocumented, I think it sends a stronger message: this may not benefit me, but I see the injustice, and I’m going to fix it.”
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to education...[and] higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." Amnesty International stands in solidarity with those working for the right to education everywhere - from Pakistan, where Malala Yousafzai was shot for standing up for her right to equal education, to right here in Maryland, where citizens and state officials agree that education should be accessible to everyone, regardless of where he or she was born.
When I voted for the Maryland Dream Act, I stood with teachers throughout the state who work hard to educate every child who comes through their classrooms. I stood with parents who take pride in watching their children succeed, and students who want to see their classmates flourish. I stood with business leaders who want to see a thriving economy, and with faith leaders who see education as an affirmation of every young person's dignity. Together, we said loud and clear that we will stand up for the right to education, we do not discriminate for any reason, and we understand that when we respect the rights and dignity of all humans, we are all stronger, and we all succeed.
For defenders of immigrants’ rights, the wind is at our back right now. We just need to listen, and we’ll hear the voices of young leaders like Jonathan and Claudia lending their voices to help fix our broken system. They’ll tell us that for starters we need a federal DREAM Act to ensure that youth in our communities don’t have to be afraid of being separated from their families. They'll echo the Amnesty International report, “In Hostile Terrain,” issued in March of this year, and tell us that migrants continue to die at the border, instances of profiling continue to be documented, and detainees continue to be abused in immigrant detention centers. We each have something we can do, and you can start by taking action now.