Speech by Tariq Khan at the UIUC Ayuda Rally at Anniversary Plaza, November 29, 2018. UIUC Ayuda was a student group/campaign to raise awareness about and material support for the Central American caravans made up of people seeking asylum.
I want to begin with some words from the Palestinian intellectual Steven Salaita. Last summer while people were discussing the Muslim ban and the evil U.S. practice of kidnapping children from their parents at the border, Professor Salaita wrote:
“The border on either side of the United States isn’t natural topography; it’s a foreign imposition sanctified by theft and ethnic cleansing. The border bisects dozens of nations that long predate the United States and do not recognize its authority. Many of the people traveling from South and Central America are Indigenous and thus operating within their own hemispheric milieu. The separation of families and the Muslim ban demolish any pretense of sovereignty by preventing Native nations from applying their own policies on refuge and migration. Beware the type of resistance that legitimizes the United States as steward of its borders and the international territories they constrict.”
And I think that is an important caution, to beware the type of resistance that legitimizes the United States. Consider the U.S.-Mexico border, a border established through a process of land theft and genocidal settler colonization. To say that the U.S.-Mexico border is a legitimate border is to say that white supremacy and genocide are legitimate foundations upon which to build a state. So first off we need to recognize that the United States has no legitimate claim to establish borders anywhere, not in North America, not in Central America, not anywhere on this planet. To restrict Central American people from traveling freely along migration routes that existed long before the creation of not just the current U.S.-Mexico border but the United States itself is itself the continuation of an ongoing white supremacist settler colonizer project.
That hyper-militarized abomination, that thoroughly bipartisan project that we call the U.S.-Mexico border, is a living, metastasizing monument to white supremacy. And no one understands this more than the most extremist white supremacists themselves. In fact, a lot of what has become present-day mainstream discourse about immigration and “border security” came directly out of white nationalist movements. Forty-one years ago, David Duke, at the time the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, held a press conference to announce that the Klan was going to start patrolling along the U.S.-Mexico border in Southern California, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona to protect the sovereignty of the United States from hordes of brown-skinned invaders. Armed Klansmen drove along the border in cars with signs on the door that said “Klan Border Watch,” to bully and terrorize brown people. Armed white settlers doing their duty to God and country. They were the spiritual descendants of the murderous white settlers who established that border in the first place.
Fast-forward to around 2005: armed white supremacist extralegal militias, like a group called the Minutemen, followed in the footsteps of the Klan Border Watch, patrolling the border and terrorizing any brown people who they crossed paths with. They were praised by Fox News and the conservative establishment as true patriots. They were given national media platforms to spread their racist talking points. The Minutemen attracted thousands of new people to the anti-immigrant movement, and thereby to the white nationalist movement. The organization soon fell apart due to fraud, sex abuse, and murder charges against its leaders, but its mark on mainstream conservatism was made. Its talking points became the talking points of what was called the Tea Party Movement, which was a Koch Brothers-funded astroturf [not real grassroots] movement that was successful in getting several far-right wing politicians elected to office locally and nationally. And talking points that were previously considered extreme, only uttered within white nationalist, neo-Confederate, and neo-Nazi circles, were now considered mainstream discourse in the halls of Congress and on the national news.
Fast-forward to the present day: the Tea Party movement opened the way for the “alt-right” fascist movement to grow in numbers and strength, which played a significant role in the election victory of the United States’ current fascist head of state, who, standing in the White House, in front of a portrait of the genocider and enslaver Andrew Jackson, regurgitates white nationalist policies, cooked up by sleazy neo-Nazi twerps like his sidekick Stephen Miller, who was the driving force behind the kidnapping and child-abuse policy that we euphemistically call “family separation.” Trump’s slogan, “America First,” was originally the slogan of U.S. Nazis in the 1930s, who formed an America First Committee to try to keep the United States from opposing Nazi Germany. The Ku Klux Klan also used that slogan. In fact, the Klan had their own coins made with the slogan “America First” engraved on them.
Sadly, even here on our own campus, there are well-funded “alt-right” fascists who operate with impunity to create a hostile environment for immigrant, Black, Brown, and Native students, faculty, and staff. Some of you might remember when members of the Illini Republicans chalked the Nazi and Klan slogan “America First” all over the sidewalks on campus, or when members of the Illini Republicans and the “alt-right” group TPUSA chalked slogans such as “Build the Wall” and “Deport” all over campus and even in front of the ethnic studies and cultural houses, or last Spring semester when TPUSA members did their racist “Build a Wall” stunt on the quad. Maybe you remember a couple years ago when members of the Illini Republicans held their racist “Affirmative Action Bakesale” over on Anniversary Plaza.
And our university’s administration has been spineless throughout. At best they have done nothing about this white supremacists and neo-fascist activity on our campus. At worst they have actively facilitated it, like when high-level administrators met with the alt-right boys before the “Affirmative Action Bakesale” to help them figure out how to go about pulling off their racist stunt without violating the student code. Our university administrators are not only failing to protect the campus from these fascist goons, they are actively accommodating them.
And now, this semester, these far-right-wing “alt-right” and “alt-light” twerps who have done nothing but harass, intimidate, and provoke people in our community, brought an ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] representative to our campus to do PR for the very organization that has been systematically kidnapping and abusing thousands of children. ICE, an organization that is so racist and dehumanizing that it has criminalized toddlers in diapers as threats to U.S. sovereignty. ICE agents have even been snatching people and separating families right here in Champaign-Urbana, with help from the local Sheriff’s office. Now we’ve elected a new Sheriff who says he will not cooperate with ICE. We need to hold him to that promise.
And on a larger level, we must not see these evil, colonizer-imposed borders as legitimate, nor accept the talking points of the anti-immigration zealots as valid. We must stand courageously for freedom of movement, for working-class internationalism, and for a world without borders.
Tariq Khan is a father, a veteran, and a PhD candidate in History at UIUC. He currently serves on the Solidarity Committee of his labor union, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO).