We mourn the passing of Leader John Lewis, a true beacon of light throughout some of history’s darkest times.
Lewis is kindly remembered by his family and colleagues as being a “Lion” – a fitting and endearing way to describe his larger-than-life reputation, his righteous courage, and his unwavering dedication to social justice. His timeless legacy is marked by his fight for voter and racial equality as one of the original “Big Six” civil rights leaders, “Freedom Riders”, and “Bloody Sunday” survivors, along with his 33-year tenure serving as U.S. House of Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, from 1987 until his death on July 17th, 2020. Beyond his role as a leading voice in the Civil Rights movement, John Lewis was a champion of human rights for all – both citizens and non-citizens alike.
Arrested 40 times in the 1960s, and five more as a congressman, he did not hesitate to express to the public that he remained prepared to continue getting in, and causing, “good trouble” – the phrase he famously coined to describe the actions/disruptions necessary in the fight for social justice, including the rights of im(migrants).
In 2013, John Lewis was among one of the elected officials arrested at a peaceful rally on Capitol Hill while protesting for comprehensive immigration reform. Years later, in response to the Trump administration’s cruel family-separation policy, Lewis reiterated his fearlessness to a crowd, shouting, “There cannot be any peace in America until these young children are returned to their parents and set all of our people free. If we fail to do it, history will not be kind to us. […] I will go to the border. I’ll get arrested again. If necessary, I’m prepared to go to jail.”
In June 2018, Lewis wrote a passionate letter to his congressional colleagues advocating for the urgency of immigration reform and condemning the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. Citing his city of Atlanta as being one of the worst places to be undocumented, Lewis warned that “If we fail to act, Georgia could become an unfortunate model for authorities to emulate across the country.”
In this same letter, Lewis renewed his commitment to “ensuring that the Federal government protects, secures, and works in the best interests of the most vulnerable – especially children and young people.” He denounced the administration’s “inhumane policy of separating children from parents”, as well as “its actions relating to Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status recipients, refugees, and others”. Lewis ends this letter with a powerful reminder to his colleagues that “[t]his relentless assault undermines our country’s legacy, promise, and moral leadership. It is unworthy of a civilized nation built by and for immigrants.”
In 2019 letter, Lewis made a statement publicly condemning planned I.C.E raids, stating:
“It is hard for me to understand how a nation still burdened by the tragic debt of the trans-Atlantic trafficking of human beings, the Trail of Tears, Japanese internment, COINTELPRO, the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay, Indian residential schools and so many more indignities that it would be impossible to recount them all here, could engage in the raids that are planned this weekend. This public policy should strike terror in the hearts of anyone who ever believed in the American dream. It leaves us all less safe and more vulnerable to violation.”
He used his skills as an orator not only to advocate in the Halls of Congress, but also to inspire the masses. In 2018, he tweeted:
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
These are just some of the words that continue to resonate deeply with us, and we are humbled to have had the opportunity to bear witness. As immigration advocates, we are dedicated to honoring his legacy by fighting for the “best interests of the most vulnerable” and continuing to “get in good trouble.”
Thank you, Leader Lewis, for teaching us how. Rest in Power.