Last week, Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts quit his job rather than connive in the deportation of immigrants. The Helena resident, who has a 4-year-old daughter and a wife in graduate school, worked as a legal secretary in the Montana Department of Labor & Industry. Originally created to address working conditions in the field of ampersand mining, the department also responds to labor data subpoenas from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Dyrdahl helped process those subpoenas. He doesn’t believe in what ICE is doing under President Donald Trump, so he quit.
“People have asked why I am doing this if I have a child,” Dyrdahl-Roberts said on Twitter. “I’m doing this because I have a child. I want to be able to look my child in the eye.”
That’s a commitment to living your values, right there. Dyrdahl-Roberts does not believe that ICE should be deporting low-priority undocumented immigrants — people who have never been convicted of felonies and were not routinely deported under the Obama administration. During the first nine months of Trump’s presidency, ICE arrests increased by 42 percent over the same period in 2016. Many of those deportees have children who were born in the United States and are therefore citizens. In an interview with the Washington Post, Dyrdahl-Roberts cited his own unstable family when he was growing up, saying he didn’t want to play a part in breaking up anyone else’s.
This sense of responsibility for the systems we uphold is sorely lacking in America today. I commend Dyrdahl-Roberts for looking candidly at his own job and acknowledging how it supports a political agenda with which he disagrees. He took the necessary steps to bring his daily life into line with his values. That’s something we can all admire — even those of us who bear absolutely no responsibility for the direction our country is headed now.
Take me, for instance. As a freelance writer, I contribute nothing to anyone, much less their agenda. Some people might look at a work life that advances no political or aesthetic projects and say that’s enough, but not me. I consider myself a political person, and I have done everything I can to stop the Trump administration from transforming my country.
“Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts considered the system in which we are all enmeshed and refused to be complicit.”
For example, I didn’t vote for him. As a journalist, I won’t tell you exactly how I exercised my rights on Election Day 2016, but it rhymes with “Hillar… stayed home and did bong hits.” It was a bold stand, undertaken at no small risk to my person, but I didn’t want to contribute to Trump becoming president. Alas, my fellow Americans were too stupid to believe the same things as me, and they voted wrong. Trump won, so my activism had to continue. I am proud to say that I have complained about him on social media ever since.
Times like these demand heroism from all of us. Over the last year, I have been careful never to give information to immigration agents that led to someone being deported. When I learned that ICE planned to deport Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, the Billings man who says he was raped in jail after a misdemeanor immigration arrest in 2013, I wrote a column saying that was bad. Then I collected my fee and paid my taxes. Then I shared a Facebook video in which President Trump was depicted as a sexually overconfident orange.
My point is that I am not a part of any of this. The federal government has fallen under the control of people with whom I vehemently disagree. They are using ICE and other agencies of American democracy to commit terrible acts, and there’s nothing I can do about it until at least November. I am clear of any responsibility for what my country does, but I encourage other people to look at their lives and ask if they can say the same.
Dyrdahl-Roberts did it, and he didn’t like what he saw. Even though his work was only tangentially connected to what ICE is doing, and despite the fact that his only part in it was to respond to court orders that demanded his employer provide information to the federal government, he quit. He stood up for his principles and his duty to the other people living in this country, even when it put his own family’s finances at risk. He considered the system in which we are all enmeshed and refused to be complicit.
In Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre writes that it is senseless to complain about the world or our lives in it, because “nothing foreign has decided what we feel, what we live, or who we are.” In this age of bad presidents, Russian election meddling and immoral enforcement of immigration policy, I just wish other people would pay more attention to that.
Dan Brooks is on Twitter at @DangerBrooks.