In February, Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts ’08 gained national attention when he quit his job rather than handing labor data over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Now he’s turned immigration rights advocacy into a fulltime vocation.
When Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts resigned from his job as a legal secretary at the Montana Department of Labor, rather than processing subpoenas to share labor data with ICE, he had plenty at stake: a 4-year-old child and a wife, Daisy Dyrdahl ’08, who is working her way through graduate school. But he also couldn’t face himself, or his family, if doing his job meant breaking up immigrant families.
“Unfortunately it didn’t lead to the sort of direct action response I was hoping for,” says Jordon, who since then has been busy as a fulltime immigration rights advocate—organizing, writing, educating, and public speaking. “When I left, I wanted other employees to come with me, or for the department to change the way they handled information requests from ICE, or for the governor to take action.”
Jordon’s tweet announcing his resignation went viral, and a GoFundMe campaign initiated by Juli Briskman—the woman who was fired for flipping off Trump’s motorcade—has raised more than his annual salary. And yet he has been disappointed that it hasn’t led to more activism by other workers. “I’ve had people say they supported my decision,” he says. “But if every person who said that had gone out and done something, I feel like we wouldn’t be continuing our slide into authoritarianism.”
At Marlboro Jordon did a Plan in writing and literature, and he still has his copy of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism that he read for his class with sociology professor Jerry Levy. But he had hoped this would be helpful esoteric background knowledge for one or more fictional universes he planned to write about, not essential knowledge he would need to recognize authoritarianism in his own country.
“Even as I’m surrounded by the warm glow of love and support from strangers, I still have a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach,” said Jordon in a February Washington Post editorial. “I wonder how many other people, working in other government offices, have unwittingly or unwillingly been drafted into ICE’s service.”
Jordon says if he could do it all over again, knowing his story would go viral, he’d have waited long enough to warn the people ICE was after. He might have also had a more precise statement prepared to prompt others to act, but other than that he has no regrets regarding his decision. Well, he might have also updated his Twitter profile first, so that he wasn’t wearing a joke t-shirt emblazoned with “Sexy dawning realization that nothing will ever be okay.”
“Even if I wouldn’t end up going viral, and no one would know what I had done, I’d still have quit. Everything else aside, I still have to live with myself and look my child in the eye. Every single day, things get a little worse, and at least I know I’m doing what I can to stop it.”
Jordon’s Plan at Marlboro focused on the idea of the hero in American culture, and he asserts that to look for one hero to defeat evil is to sacrifice our own agency. We can’t pin our hopes on someone else to do the work for us—we have to be the ones to take action, he says. “Marlboro College gave me the ability to still speak out even when it’s uncomfortable.”
Follow Jordon at twitter.com/dyrbert.