I enjoyed Diane Lefer’s interview with Tram Nguyen [“Land of the Free? The Backlash against Immigrants in Post-9/11 America,” July 2007]. I was reminded of it the other day when I saw a police officer take a Latino man off the subway train that I was riding. The man didn’t speak English and had trouble understanding the officer’s orders. I couldn’t follow them out the door to make sure there were no civil-rights abuses, so I copied down the officer’s badge number.
I imagined what it would be like if the police pulled my husband off the train: I’m an American citizen married to an undocumented immigrant. Most people believe that if an immigrant is married to an American citizen, he or she is eligible for citizenship or a green card. Unfortunately, this isn’t so for my husband. Our immigration attorney has told us that if I tried to get my husband his papers, he would be barred from the country for ten years simply because he is an undocumented immigrant. We would be forced to raise our children either apart or in a Third World country. We have decided to stay together, even if it means that my children and I must leave our homeland. I fear it’s only a matter of time before a police officer pulls my husband from a train, or federal agents raid my home and take him away from me.
As the train pulled away from the station, I considered reporting the officer. This could have been an instance of authorities harassing immigrants. But in New York, if you report police misconduct, you are required to provide your personal contact information, and I worried the police would use the information to retaliate against me or my husband. And yet, I thought, if I don’t speak out for this man, who will speak out for me when I am forced to leave my country?
Tram Nguyen opened my eyes and heart to the injustices experienced by immigrants in the U.S. It remained unclear to me, however, what she thinks should be done. Nguyen is critical of laws limiting the influx of immigrants, but never offers concrete alternatives. At one point, the interviewer asks Nguyen whether she thinks it’s OK to secure the borders at all, and Nguyen dodges the question.
If, in fact, Nguyen supports an open-border policy — which I happen to think would be foolish — I wish she would articulate what her vision might look like in reality.
Though I agree there has been a backlash against certain immigrant groups in the United States since 9/11, I think Tram Nguyen takes the argument against deporting criminal immigrants too far. If I were a guest, or even a legal permanent resident, in Denmark or Japan or Venezuela, and I raped someone or sold heroin to schoolchildren, I don’t think the governments of those countries would have any qualms about deporting me. Why should the same standard not apply in this country?
Nguyen needs to make herself a little more familiar with Section 101(a)(48) of the Immigration and Nationality Act: simple possession of marijuana is not, as she claims, an aggravated felony, nor is “lying to an INS officer.” And in my eleven years in the immigration field, I have never seen anyone deported for a single shoplifting offense. I’m also perplexed by her logic that, by sending immigrant felons back to their own countries, we are somehow “exporting the problem.” Weren’t the felons, in fact, importing the problem by committing crimes here?
Tram Nguyen responds:
Under the provisions of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, minor drug offenses — including the possession of marijuana, “controlled substances,” and other paraphernalia — can result in mandatory detention and removal. A new report by Human Rights Watch found that nearly 65 percent of immigrants deported in 2005 had been convicted of nonviolent crimes, including shoplifting.
The current system encourages immigration authorities to go after even the most minor offenses. Here in California, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has brought deportation charges against legal permanent residents who commit infractions — offenses so minor they don’t result in any jail time. Infractions include playing cards for money, trespassing, and disturbing the peace. After being challenged by the Asian Law Caucus, the DHS was forced to admit that the infractions were not grounds for deportation, but the case illustrates the harsh institutional practices that flourish in such a political climate.
As for the argument about deporting rapists, I think that it sensationalizes the issue. According to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, sexual assault accounted for 2 percent of all deportations in 2002. The majority of deportations are for nonviolent offenses, most often drug possession or immigration violations.
Even in cases of more severe felonies, such as gang convictions, the matter is not so simple as “sending them back.” When problems arise in arranging repatriation with the home country’s government — for instance, in Laos or Palestine — the immigrant is often detained in prison for years. Many have family members or children who are U.S. citizens, and some deportees face the threat of persecution, imprisonment, or death upon being returned to their native country. That’s why I say that we are “exporting the problem” by not addressing the issues of immigration policy, crime, and policing in the U.S. Rather, we are separating families based on an immoral and impractical policy.
I don’t, in fact, think that an “open border” is realistic or politically feasible, and I do believe that stringent law-enforcement efforts should be applied to apprehending terrorists, drug smugglers, and other organized criminals who operate across borders. We should remember, however, that the Canadian border is relatively “open,” and that at one time the Mexican border was too. I think that legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. — as well as increasing the number of visas for the agricultural, construction, service, and other industries that rely upon immigrant workers — will go a long way toward addressing the problem of illegal crossings, which result in the deaths of thousands of migrants in the desert.
My blood began to boil as I read Sy Safransky’s flimsy whining about feeling betrayed by the leaders of the Democratic Party [Sy Safransky’s Notebook, July 2007]. It takes only an ounce of hindsight to see that this is right in line with history; the war machine wears both party ties. How many times do we need to see Democrats violently topple a democracy before this sort of whining will stop? I expect this from a sixteen-year-old bleeding heart, but not from the editor of The Sun.
I suggest Safransky stay home from the next shrill protest and do a little reading, so that he can promote more sensible and thoughtful politics. As a small penance for using his influence to turn readers away from the only sensible and ethical presidential choice in 2004, he could read everything available by Ralph Nader.
As a registered Democrat, I’d much prefer to read interviews with people who have views opposed to mine. How about interviewing folks on the other end of the political spectrum for a change?
Sister Joan Chittister’s statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are deeply flawed and cannot go unchallenged [“Be Not Silent,” interview by James Kullander, June 2007]. She says pressure should be brought to bear “on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.” Israel has negotiated with the Palestinians on numerous occasions. Has Chittister not heard of the Oslo Accords or Camp David? How does she expect negotiations to bear fruit when the Palestinians, increasingly represented by the radical Hamas Party, refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist?
Chittister also says the major religious leaders she met in Syria told her that “unrest in the Arab world will not end until the Palestinian problem is solved.” Does Chittister endorse this viewpoint? What does the Palestinian problem have to do with the conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites, or between Islamic fundamentalists and secular, moderate Muslims? What did the Palestinians have to do with the Iran-Iraq War? With the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri? With Iran’s desire to dominate the Middle East by acquiring nuclear weapons?
Regarding the war in Iraq, Joan Chittister says Democrats in Congress “could have spoken out against it. They should have been out in the streets with placards.”
Our elected officials did what we hired them to do: they represented the majority of their constituents, who valued vengeance against a purported enemy over the truth. Most of our politicians adhere to the British adage: “First find out where the people are going and then walk in front of them.” It is we, the people, who failed.
I admire Joan Chittister’s vocal opposition to the Catholic Church’s position on birth control and other issues, but I question why she feels a need to cling to Catholicism — or any religion, for that matter. We do not need religion to make us serene and loving. Chittister says, “Organized religion keeps human ideals before us,” as if we humans cannot have ideals without it. What about the great philosophers who were not religious? What about nonreligious charitable organizations? Like many recovering Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim clients in my psychotherapy practice, I have found religion to be an obstacle to love. It teaches that there is only one way to God, only one way to believe. As a result my clients feel they are never good enough, perhaps even worthless.
In an interview in the April 1995 issue of The Sun, former Catholic priest Matthew Fox [“The Trouble with Religion”] sums up what I have found over and over again to be true: “If you teach people that the number-one problem is their sin and that when they came into the world they made a blotch on existence, they’ll never get over it. We talk about sexual abuse of children, but this is religious abuse.” To continue to be aligned with religions in which fear and guilt are predominant motivators is to enable such abuse. I hope to see a time when religion no longer matters.