Fear: The Bane of the Beloved Community

“There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.” (Martin Luther King, 4/15/1960, Raleigh, NC)

41 years after his assassination, Martin Luther King’s dream of a fully integrated and reconciled society, his Beloved Community, still remains largely unfulfilled for the marginalized in America. Specifically, fear seems to reign in the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable group – immigrants are afraid to go to school, go to work, report crimes, visit anything but an Emergency Room. Immigrants, to a large extent, have been the object of laws designed to keep them segregated and silent and invisible.

Thursday’s joint subcommittee hearings brought national attention to the injustices inherent in the United State’s 287(g) program which deputizes local cops to become federal immigration enforcers. Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona, is a prime example of how certain jurisdictions are using this federal program to strike fear into the hearts of all immigrants. With his inhumane treatment of prisoners, his nativist focus on immigration enforcement over his other law enforcement duties, and his sensationalism and victimization of the immigrant community, both legal and not, Arpaio has succeeded in creating in Maricopa County (the fourth largest county in the U.S., with 4 million inhabitants) a community of distrust and fear. Maryland community advocate Antonio Ramirez, seconded by Rep. Conyers and others, testified at the subcommittee hearings on April 2, 2009, that the policies born of 287(g) lead to a drastic loss of trust and cooperation with authorities.  (Staff, Greg and Jackie Mahendra. America’s Voice)

Furthermore, Police Foundation President Hubert Williams stated that funding for this program takes away from money for smart community policing initiatives which are far more successful in preventing crime. In Sheriff Joe’s Maricopa County, for instance, Arpaio’ tactics seem to have backfired, with violent crime skyrocketing over 69% from 204-2007 (a statistic not echoed in nearby Phoenix or Mesa). When a large population of immigrants live in fear and are excluded from the Beloved Community, crime goes unreported and unchecked. (Bolick, Clint. “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office”)

The subcommittee hearings also brought to light the rampant racial profiling that has accompanied 287(g) programs across the country. UNC Chapel Hill Law School Professor Deborah Weissman highlighted the lack of sufficient training and the resulting civil rights abuses. Her recent report, “The Politics and Policies of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws,” illustrates that most “unwelcome” immigrants are stopped under the pretense of traffic violations; in Gaston County, NC, 83% of immigrants arrested by ICE had been cited first under a petty traffic violation.

Sadly, certain members of the subcommittee were insistent that 287(g) was marginally successful in the less than 5% of counties in which it is currently employed. It is hard to ascribe any motivation more flattering than unfettered xenophobia to such committee members. Rep. Steve King, a ranking member on the Immigration Subcommittee, questioned 19-year-old Julio Mora repeatedly about whether his father had taught him about rule of law (a.k.a. reporting undocumented immigrants). Mora, who had been detained and harassed because he’s Latino, responded eloquently, “My father taught me to respect everyone.” Rep. King and others seemed to intimate that racial profiling of American citizens was little more than an inconvenience or a slight embarrassment.

These joint subcommittee hearings’ decision on 287(g) is vitally important for creating a Beloved Community in the United States. Programs like 287(g) encourage fear, silence, and marginalization. The effects of this are chilling. Yesterday, a shooter opened fire on immigrants taking citizenship and language classes at an immigrant center in Binghamton, NY. 14 were found dead in the American Civic Association (an immigrant organization founded in 1939 and with support from United Way). The shooter, Jiverly Wong, is believed to have been a naturalized citizen who attended classes at ACA years before. While there are no clear answers and no explanations for such a tragedy, the fear 287(g) generates discourages crime reporting; we are left to speculate if this would have happened had Wong’s immigrant community felt empowered, rather than marginalized, by our nation’s laws.(CNN)

Similarly, Father Paul Ouderkirk gave a presentation at Pax Christi Church in Rochester, MN, on April 2. Much of his presentation focused on the fears in his community of Postville (where an ICE raid in May arrested 289 immigrants, closed the town’s largest employer, and crippled the town of 2400). Ouderkirk spoke of the psychological trauma felt by families after fathers were deported to Guatemala. He disparaged the fact that many women are still required to wear ankle bracelets. He discussed the fear of the citizen children, many of whom were terrified to return to school for fear that they would be arrested or they’d come home to find the rest of their family gone. (Valdez, Christina Killion. “Priests say Immigration Laws Need Reform.”)

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The ICE raid at Postville and 287(g) both serve to strike fear into our nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. Far from creating a Beloved Community, fear breeds distrust, un-cooperation, division, and hate. Additionally, this terror is not limited to extralegals in America; rather, it extends to most minorities. When Latinos are followed by police officers simply for looking Latino, fear reigns. When Somalis are interrogated at bus stops simply for being Muslim, fear reigns. When jaywalking Hmong citizens are detained because of their ethnicity, fear reigns. Our nation, our Beloved Community, demands comprehensive immigration reform to end the fear and begin an era of trust.

Please consider adding your name and voice to the letter going out to Chairman Conyers of the joint subcommittee. You can do so here.

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