This week marks the 81st birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His heroic struggle for civil rights, a battle for which he paid with his life, is an inspiration to all Americans. While there has been progress since the 60s, there remains much work to be done.
Last week, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, speaking at the first naturalization ceremony timed to honor the slain civil rights leader, reminded the nation that the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement of the 60s is America’s promise of a dream to all who are able to come here. “When we greet new citizens into the United States we speak of the open opportunities that our country presents to everyone around the world who qualifies for the benefits our agency administers…Martin Luther King helped define those hopes and opportunities for everyone.”

I applaud Director Mayorkas for his words and for honoring Dr. King’s memory with citizenship ceremonies around the country. But it is also important to remember those who cannot get here or who are here but cannot enjoy America’s promise—the victims of persecution and torture who seek refuge in America but have been refused admission; the business entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, and others who long to contribute to America’s economy, social fabric, and culture but are subject to a bureaucratic “culture of no” as well as absurd visa quotas and interminable backlogs; the husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who dream of reuniting with their loved ones and have played by the rules only to find themselves at the wrong end of a broken immigration system. And, of course, we must hold in our hearts all those who are in the U.S., but are detained or live in fear of arrest, deportation, and separation from their families because America offers them no pathway to citizenship.

I would encourage everyone to take time this week to read (or re-read) Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham jail It is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Dr. King from the city jail in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was confined after being arrested for his part in a planned non-violent protest against racial segregation by Birmingham’s city government and downtown retailers. His eloquent words apply with equal force to all struggles for human rights, including today’s fight for immigration reform.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.