You may have been caught off guard by the intense, well-attended rallies across the country that have taken place in the last year in support of undocumented immigrants.
The mobilization over this issue has fired up the 40 million-strong Latino-American community, which is now the country's largest minority and represents the bulk of undocumented workers. But Muslims need to be fired up about it too.
After the 9/11 terror attacks, Muslims were detained, harassed, fingerprinted and deported. At least half a million Muslims have been affected in some manner by these measures.
What is critical to note though, is that Muslims who were undocumented, whether as workers, students or in any other capacity, became subject to many of these harsh tactics. It was noted during fishing expeditions for "Muslim terrorists" that even having an expired visa became an excuse for many Muslim men to be subjected to detainment and subsequent deportation. Undocumented status became a handy reason to punish Muslims, who were deemed guilty for 9/11 by association.
While some Muslims have launched legal challenges against their unjust treatment, they are the minority. Most have chosen to suffer in silence.
This growing movement is not just about undocumented laborers. Nor is it solely the concern of the Latino community. It is about all of us, whether we are immigrants ourselves or their children and grandchildren.
This is about fairness, dignity and an end to the hypocrisy that ignores immigration violations when it's convenient, but chooses to crack down harshly on it when it's expedient.
It is also about respect for all, including green card holders, who still sense that their status is shaky at best unless they choose to become US citizens. It's about ensuring that those permanent residents who do choose to become citizens are made so in a timely manner. Currently, there are reports by Muslims and non-Muslims of years of backlog and delays to their obtaining citizenship, even when all of the rules have been obeyed, the paperwork completed and fees paid.
Most importantly, a fair system will ensure the protection of civil rights for all people.
What Muslims must do on a practical level
First, Muslims must reach out to and work with the Latino community, which is at the forefront of this movement. This means attending rallies, writing, speaking and financially supporting the cause in order to establish that this is an issue of justice for all immigrant communities. And America is a nation of immigrants, the majority of whom arrived on its shores and borders undocumented, from the European Pilgrims to African slaves to today's Mexican day laborers. May 1st is another round of rallies.
Second, Muslims must help bridge the gap that has developed on this issue between African-Americans and Latinos. While the Black Congressional caucus and a number of African-Americans have offered their support to Latinos, a few feel threatened by the fact that African-Americans are no longer the country's largest minority. A number also believe that Latinos are stealing jobs. This tension is becoming a barrier in the fight for justice.
One-third of American Muslims are African-American and a growing number are Latino. The Muslim community, especially its African-American and Latino subsets, are in a unique position to dialog and help bridge the gap that is unnecessarily hindering African-American support for this cause.
Muslims failed to successfully launch a movement for their rights post-9/11. Today, we have a golden opportunity to work with those who have started the second civil rights movement when we should have. We must become part of this cause today, before we watch our rights, the rights of our children and the rights of all suffer.