I wish I knew more about the anti-immigration movement in this country, because I’d love to know just exactly when it was that illegal immigration was reframed from being a crime you committed when you crossed the border–you immigrated, i.e. entered and settled in this country, in a manner contrary to the laws of our country, much like I might cross the road in a manner that is illegal or fail to wear my seatbelt or even have stolen some candy as a child; in other words, an illegal act that lasted as briefly as the time it took to commit it–to being an ongoing state of illegality in which, as long as you’re here, you’re committing a crime.
Because, it seems to me, after looking through the federal code, that some of the immigration laws are designed with the first understanding and some are designed with the second.
I bring this up because it seems to me that it was necessary for anti-immigration forces to shift the definition, because, otherwise, coming into this country illegally becomes one of the few crimes for which the statute of limitations never runs out.
Which is, of course, what we have in essence now that “illegal immigration” is an ongoing crime.
Except, really, it’s worse than that.
Think about this. Say I’m living in your shed without your permission. I’m there illegally. I’m trespassing. Now, say someone breaks into your shed to steal your lawn mower and, in the process, shoots and kills me.
Are they not a murderer? It’s still a crime against me, even if I am in the process of committing a crime. There’s no “get out of jail free” card that prevents the government from charging my killer.
Say the thief just beats me. Have I not been assaulted?
It seems obvious that, even if I am trespassing, I still have legal protections.
This does not seem to be the case for our immigrant neighbors.
Homeland Security, for instance, is considering changing the rules so that victims of domestic violence who entered the country illegally cannot get visas under the Violence Against Women Act, even though this act was intended, in part, to aid women who are terrorized by abusive husbands with the threat that, if they report their abuse, they’ll be deported.
Closer to home, people rounded up in the Robertson County raids are still, still sitting in jail; so much for due process and the right to a speedy trial. Many of them have been deprived of the opportunity to see their family members, even though they haven’t been convicted yet of anything.
We don’t treat these people like criminals.
We treat them worse than criminals. At least we acknowledge that criminals have rights.
These are people without any status.
And without any status, they have no protections.
America, we are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.
And I have to tell you, what we’re doing now to these people, is evil.
The promise of America is nothing if it’s doled out in such a miserly fashion that we can’t protect a battered woman or give a man a few minutes a day with his kids. It’s nothing if we can’t acknowledge the hard work and contributions of all our neighbors and show some mercy on our most desperate friends.
We have a long history of embracing hatred and mean-spiritedness as a method of building community pride. And this, what we’re doing now, is part of that same long embrace.
I want to tell you a story about a man you and I both know, who went one afternoon, an afternoon much like this one, to a jail nearby where many undocumented workers are being held.
And the jailer was telling him how part of the reason that family members can’t get in to see the men in jail is that the man will have given his name as, say, Manuel Martinez, but, unbeknownst to the jailer, all that man’s friends call him Marty.
And so a woman will come into the jail and ask for Marty Martinez, and, of course, there is no such prisoner.
Our friend suggested that the jailer just assign each prisoner a number so that said prisoner could tell his loved ones, “When you come, ask for 619” and that way, it wouldn’t matter if he was Manuel Martinez, Marty Martinez, or Wal-Marty Martindale or what, the loved one could just ask for 619.
And, by way of explanation for why he didn’t think this would be possible, the jailer took our friend in to see the computers available to the police force.
It’s 2008, America, and those computers still run on DOS.
You would think that, if a community really were serious about ridding itself of illegal immigrants, a police force would not want for new computers. And yet, there are no computers that can do the accounting necessary to give each person even a number.
And so we have to accept that this is not about ridding ourselves of illegal immigrants, but instead about publicly terrorizing them so that we might be Proud to be Americans.
Anna Akhmatova writes (though I’m not sure who did this beautiful translation):
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
America, it’s so easy for me to imagine a few changes of names of landmarks and this “Requiem” becomes about you.
That’s it. I don’t know what more to tell you, except what I tell all of my friends who mess around with married men, which is, “If they do it for you, they’ll do it to you.”
Americans, if our government will do this for you, they will do it to you.
If you cannot stand against this nonsense for the sake of your fellow humans, stand against it out of self-preservation.