They Say I Am Illegal

migrant workers, in a field, harvest sweet potatoes in Johnston County, North Carolina.

Congregation starts, reading the words in italics.

They say I am “illegal”;

But so is anyone who ever rolled through a stop sign, jaywalked or threw trash on the ground. Not having a visa is a civil infraction, not a federal crime.

They say I am here to take your jobs;

But the jobs are often backbreaking and underpaid, and we are exploited by those who could never find a U.S. citizen to work under such conditions.

They say that I bring drugs and crime with me;

But it is U.S. consumers buying the drugs and U.S. weapons in the hands of the desperate.

They say I am here to live off the system;

But I pay taxes too, and yet I live in a shadow economy that denies me the benefits of a secure old age and medical care if I get hurt on the job.

They say that English is the only language worth speaking;

But the true heritage of the United States is diversity, and I add my words and my traditions to the culture that enriches us all.

They say I am here just to have my baby;

But can you remember another mother who braved hardship and danger to bring her baby safely into this world? Can you deny Mary or Maria the right to fight for a better life for her child?

They say that you will know I am illegal by my work boots and dusty jeans,

But what about the student who overstays her visa, the artist who cannot marry his American boyfriend, or the grandmother who cares for the baby while the mother works? We may not all wear boots, we may have come from many countries, and yet we are alike.

They say that the more I have, the less you have;

But you are not diminished if I am raised up. Humanity is enriched when we climb together towards the light.

All: Life is not a zero-sum game.