Sunday, September 16, 2007

10. America is better than this...

After spending the last five years representing hundreds of families with different immigration statuses, I am alarmed by both the litany of falsehoods being repeated about my clients by groups like the Minutemen and the really bad laws and policies that are enacted when people believe such claims. The anti-immigrant crowd works hard to convince the public that they should fear and hate my clients. They claim that my clients are to blame for most our national problems, that they are invading us to break our laws, rape our daughters, spread leprosy, massacre our youth and that they threaten our cultural identity.

Of course, those with firsthand knowledge of recent immigrants—friends, family members, and others who work and live with them—know that these claims are ridiculous. Ask any of my clients and they will tell you: They came to work and to help their family, a motivation no different than that of my ancestors. Unfortunately, many otherwise good Americans are deceived into believing the claims of the Minutemen and are then often convinced to support a host of “kick-the-immigrant” laws and policies, even when such policies offer no positive benefit to society.

For example, Kansas and Missouri legislators were convinced that taking away the ability of undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses would “crack down on illegal immigration.” Years later, that action clearly has not resulted in fewer immigrants, but has resulted in higher case loads for the police and courts, more uninsured drivers on the road, more hit-and-run accidents, and a new demand for fake insurance cards and even licenses.

Similarly, the recent “deputizing” of the Missouri Highway Patrol for immigration enforcement will result in some deportations, but it is also making my clients more fearful of all law enforcement. Local police already combating the “Stop Snitchin” culture in their criminal investigations will face a new reluctance from thousands of Kansas City residents to report crime and to cooperate with police. That hurts all of us.

Most of my foreign-born clients come to me wanting to follow the law in as many ways as they can, yet find themselves thwarted from doing so—much to the detriment of everybody. Rather than helping to integrate our society, “kick-the-immigrant” laws hurt families, divide communities and create criminality where there was none before. Predictably, groups like the Minutemen then turn around and blame immigrants while claiming that they themselves are merely “supporting the rule of law.” Like Jim Crow, Apartheid, and other bad legal systems that preceded them, “kick-the-immigrant” laws and policies cannot be justified without appealing to our fear, ignorance and prejudice against another group of people. That’s really all the Minutemen have to offer us, and that’s what makes them unacceptable in our halls of government.

Many reasonable people can disagree over what the best national immigration policy should be, but attacking the immigrants themselves separates the Minutemen from mainstream civic organizations. Simply put, America is better than this, and area voters have consistently stated so at the polls. Politicians and policymakers should take note.

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