Not Without Our Children

Becky Schigiel’s remarks at the #FamiliesBelongTogether press conference at First Methodist Church on June 30, 2018. 

I am here with you today both as a Jew and on behalf of Worker Justice Wisconsin. As Jewish leaders across the nation have been saying this week, we are also immigrants. And we know exactly what it is like for our children to be taken and put into camps.

There is a story in my tradition.  Somewhere between the 3rd and 9th plagues, after the frogs and before the locusts, Pharaoh said Fine, you can go, but just the adult men.  And what was the response? What did Moses say?  Not without our children.  And they didn’t go, not until they were free to take their entire families.  So, today we also say: Not without our children.

I want to say a word about the connection between worker rights and this relentless assault on immigrants.  For there is indeed a connection.   Migrant workers are vital contributors to our economy and lives.  They also are the most likely to work the longest hours, to be cheated out of their wages, to be unprotected from workplace injuries.  And so they learn their rights and they organize.  Most recently we have seen the success of farmworkers in Florida and California, eliminating sexual and other abuses and winning fair pay.

So what is happening now? Making it impossible for immigrants to enter or work in our country creates an artificial scarcity of employees in the market, which then justifies guest worker programs without much rights to them at all — programs that further increase all worker vulnerability. Other companies simply use more workers stuck in countries where conditions are even worse.

So let us ask today: What would the world look like to us if we were to see every one of the children locked up on our borders, every child locked away inside our nation — and in several places in Wisconsin — what happens when we see them all as our children.  Can we escape with a sense of freedom?  No, not without our children.

What if we start to see that there isn’t one man today we might call Pharaoh – no really, not a single man, but a whole system that affords some us easier lives built on the labors of others and built on – there’s that excellent term again – an artificial scarcity.  We are being fed the story of an artificial scarcity of safety and freedom.  But we are free to act. You and I and most people in this country, we know the truth:  there is no real scarcity of space, no scarcity of people who could figure out how to do this better, no shortage of ways we can all take better care of each other.  We are here today to act on our freedom and claim it for all.

So the question before us today is — Can any of us look away and continue our own journeys?  And how do we answer?  No not without our children.

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