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Commentary: Undocumented immigrants being dehumanized


Immigrants and their supporters rally on the west side of the U.S. Capitol in March 2006 in protest of impending immigration legislation.
A UMNS file photo by Rick Reinhard.

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Humberto Casanova*

June 5, 2007

 

The living situation for illegal immigrants in the United States is deteriorating every day in many respects.

Many do not have adequate legal support in our judicial system. Without financial resources and with little understanding of English, they swarm the courts and assent to whatever judgment is imposed on them. The government is not assigning lawyers, and two-thirds of the 350,000 illegal immigration cases in 2006 were conducted "pro se."

A typical case goes like this: An undocumented worker is called before the judge by a case number. An interpreter is instructed to ask the defendant if he or she has a lawyer. The immigrant answers "no" and, therefore, represents himself throughout the proceedings. The judge explains that the government doesn’t see any legal basis for him to remain in the United States, and the immigrant is given three months to leave the country voluntarily.

"The only way not to feel a profound sorrow and compassion for these people is to dehumanize them – to think of them as less than human, as a kind of monster invading the country."

Moreover, there is a rage to detain immigrants without bond and deport them without appeal for minor infractions. It baffles the mind. The system is not only attacking undocumented immigrants, but thousands of legal permanent residents are also deported for crimes considered misdemeanors under state law that don't impose jail time. One legal resident was returned to Cambodia for urinating in public.

It is urgent for churches to provide legal assistance to immigrants to increase the possibility of a fair hearing and to plan a good defense. Experience shows that a third of cases with legal representation are successful. Especially painful are those cases in which children are separated from one or both parents because of an ineffective defense.

The dehumanization factor

Federal raids are increasingly occurring in factories and fields across the United States. This is another aspect of an environment of terror being created against undocumented immigrants.

One raid on a leather factory in New Bedford, Mass., was conducted with guns, dogs and a small army of federal officers. At the same time, as many as 200 children were left stranded at schools and home, including nursing infants. More than 300 parents were rounded up by federal authorities, and more than 200 were sent to detention centers in Texas and New Mexico. They face deportation without much assistance, and their children are left abandoned to the will of state care or landlords.

The only way not to feel a profound sorrow and compassion for these people is to dehumanize them – to think of them as less than human, as a kind of monster invading the country.

In many states, there is a proliferation of bills aimed at making life for the immigrant a daily nightmare.

There have been bills that would terminate business licenses to employers who hire illegal immigrants, cut off funding to charities assisting the undocumented, make it a crime just to be in the state, penalize landlords who rent to undocumented workers, deny medical services and access to state schools and universities, and penalize banks that provide checking accounts and services.

Not all the proposed bills become law, but there are continuing efforts to penalize the immigrants rather than to solve the immigration problem.

 


The Rev. Humberto Casanova

As U.S. businesses are in desperate need of immigrant labor, the offer of jobs will continue in spite of accompanying fears and dangers. At the federal level, some propose denying citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal parents, rejecting the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. About 3 million American-born children have at least one parent who is an illegal immigrant.

Growing animosity

Another issue is growing animosity against these immigrants. In Alabama, police infiltrated a Free Militia that had conspired to use their weapons during the May 1 immigration march. In the search, police found grenades, a machine gun, a short-barreled shotgun, silencers, firearms and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition and explosives.

In Gaithersburg, Md., the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department reported an arson in early May against the recently opened day-labor center, Casa de Maryland, which had received many hate calls before the incident.

Deborah M. Lauter, civil rights director of the Anti-Defamation League, said hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan have experienced "a surprising and troubling resurgence by exploiting fears of an immigration explosion; and the debate over immigration has, in turn, helped to fuel an increase in Klan activity, with new groups sprouting in parts of the country that have not seen much activity."

The Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 144 nativist extremist groups active across 39 states in recent months. Most of these organizations have taken form since April 2006.

The hatred is also promoted by media pundits that spread a wave of verbal violence. Lou Dobbs, anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight," recently reported that in the last three years, illegal immigrants have brought 7,000 cases of leprosy to the United States.

 

However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that the leprosy cases actually occurred over the last 30 years. The department never stated whether immigration was the source.

In his column, political analyst Pat Buchanan writes that the massacre of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech was somehow related to immigration. "Almost no attention has been paid to the fact that Cho Seung-Hui was not an American at all, but an immigrant, an alien," he says. "Had this deranged young man who secretly hated us never come here, 32 people (murdered) would be heading home from Blacksburg for summer vacation."

"We must learn to look at the world through the lens of the Father of all children. The Bible says God 'defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.'"

Buchanan's anti-immigrant tirade becomes more sickening when he argues that "the 1993 bombers of the World Trade Center and the killers of 9/11 were all immigrants or illegals." The purpose of these words is to portray the undocumented immigrant as monsters.

Such propaganda blinds the American people from seeing the image of God in undocumented immigrants.

We must learn to look at the world through the lens of the Father of all children. The Bible says God "defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." (Deuteronomy 10:18). Scripture says God loves all those who are in a vulnerable and helpless condition. So he commands the church to love the alien (Deuteronomy 10:19), to provide for them (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 14:29), to treat them as native-born (Leviticus 19:34), and to judge them without bias and discrimination (Deuteronomy 1:16; 24:17; 27:19). The Lord prohibits oppressing or mistreating the immigrant (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33).

We should compare God’s teachings with our own feelings and attitudes and reflect for a moment on where we stand on this issue.

*Casanova is associate editor of Spanish resources for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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