Having just published our Bill of Rights, we are now presenting our Declaration of Responsibilities. Living in a democracy means we’re bound to promote a community of shared values working for the greater good. Since we realize that our Undocumented status means we always have something to prove, a way to gain acceptance as Americans, we are busy making our case every day.
Most of the responsibilities that Americans associate with citizenship revolve around voting, which consistently reveals dismal participation, and jury duty, which is often viewed as a nuisance, if not a burden. Those of us (the other 1%) who serve in the military are demonstrably willing to defend the nation with our very lives. If being a responsible citizen means volunteering and coming to the aid of others in an emergency, then many Americans excel at shouldering more than our own self-interest. This shared sense of responsibility extends to us, the Undocumented, who serve in our military, volunteer in our communities, lend a hand in times of tragedy and vote in local elections when allowed.
The American sense of shared responsibility is balanced against a frontier-born belief in self-reliance that encourages citizens to think for themselves, to be independent, to take care of their own, to blaze new trails regardless of the risks. It is both individual initiative and a sense of connectedness to other Americans that makes democracy work.
We, the Undocumented, have definitely risked it all to come to America and we’re willing to work hard to take care of our families – often at low wages in more than one job. We are determined to give our children a better life and know that education is key to their individual success and to the collective competitiveness of the U.S. We have taken our place in the long line of self-reliant and resourceful U.S. immigrants who believe that democracy will help us realize our potential while we renew the American Dream and make the country stronger.
But a democracy demands even more: constant vigilance against corruption, fear-mongering and tyrannical powers. We must stay educated and informed, steadfast in defense of human rights and social justice and ever tolerant of diversity. We believe that only in assuming the responsibilities of democracy will we be afforded the rights of citizenship. It’s our way of earning our citizenship, something so many American take for granted.
We take nothing for granted because we’ve lived in places without voting rights or justice systems, where violence is the rule of law. We will work hard to help America reach its highest ideals because they are what brought us here in the first place, what we teach our children. This is why we’ve committed ourselves to declaring our Bill of Rights and now our Declaration of Responsibilities.
Undocumented Americans’ Declaration of Responsibilities©
We Undocumented Americans fully understand that rights and responsibilities are inseparable and the vast majority of us are already living our lives accordingly. So let us purposefully pledge to accept certain responsibilities as a down payment to the nation’s acknowledgement of our Undocumented Americans’ Bill of Rights.
To this end, we submit our Declaration of Responsibilities as our personal and collective path to documented residency and ultimately citizenship. The more we visibly shoulder our own responsibilities, the closer we come to a national acceptance of our rights. Our responsibilities begin with acknowledging that to live the American Dream we must live up to American Ideals, regardless of status. We are proud of how far we’ve come and gladly embrace our responsibilities in becoming fully integrated in the America we love.
Educate our children, ourselves and support our schools.
Protect the nation and defend the Constitution.
Work hard and pay our own way.
Contribute to the growth of the American economy.
Learn English and U.S. history.
Provide for past and future generations of Americans with our Social Security contributions.
Volunteer in our communities.
Respect the law.
Obtain drivers’ licenses and insurance where allowed.
Pay our taxes.
Respect all others’ rights and freedoms.
Participate in the political process even if we can’t vote; vote in local elections where we’re included.
© 2015 UnitedWeStay, Inc., Marcelino Jose
On a Personal Note
Four weeks ago, we published an Undocumented Americans’ Bill of Rights. The response we received was maddening and shameful. As the founder of UnitedWeStay, I have made it our organization’s mission to document the stories of the Undocumented and to be a voice for those who haven’t yet found a way to be heard. I write from the heart of a first-generation American citizen and find myself appalled at the vitriol that the immigration issue now elicits. It is an anathema to the very premise of this nation founded of immigrants, by immigrants and for immigrants. We are only entitled to be the gloried America embodied in the Statue of Liberty when we address the rights of immigrants for our time and for the ages.
Among the nasty, ignorant, xenophobic, Coulterish, Trumpish and pseudo-racist comments we received, there was one that stood out from Susan H: “I’ll buy into your Bill of Rights the very minute you create an equally binding Bill of Responsibilities.” This is exactly the kind of insight that leads to a productive debate, a constructive national conversation. I took this challenge as a call to action. Thank you, Susan. And to those of you who are willing to engage in thoughtful, open-minded discourse, we invite your comments on our blog.