Friday, April 19, 2013

The Boston Bombings Should Not Prompt Us to React out of Xenophobia

Now that this chapter of the Boston Marathon bombings has come to a close, and a new chapter about to open, I'd like to start this blog entry with a prayer.  Dear Lord, thank you for the wisdom and skill of the FBI, and the Boston area police and rescue departments.  Thank you for allowing the authorities to apprehend this man alive.  Be with the family of all the victims and grant them your strength as they learn how to recover from this horrible chain of events. Watch over the souls of all of those who lost their lives this week.  Guide us with your wisdom and your sense of justice as we as a society respond to these events.  Amen.

As I sit here, watching the coverage on CNN and Fox News, I cannot help but feel a certain sense of apprehension.  I am apprehensive that we will allow fear and xenophobia guide our response.

The xenophobia was certainly present in the media coverage during the week.  Thursday, as I was listening to Sean Hannity (yes, I am a fan), he kept harping on the 20 year old Saudi student who was a victim of the bombing but was questioned earlier in the week by the authorities.  Hannity kept insisting that certain unnamed sources, whom he did not identify, had told him that the student was scheduled to be deported on Tuesday, that there was a secret meeting between the President and Saudi officials that afternoon, that because of that meeting the deportation might be placed on hold, and that this was all being kept quiet.

I was immediately struck by the complete ignorance and irresponsibility Hannity had shown.  First of all, having gone through a number of deportations and voluntary departures with my clients, I know that ICE will not divulge when an alien is being deported.  It is considered a security risk, and they just won't do it.  I can't imagine how someone in the know would break that rule by informing Sean Hannity, even if it was off the record, knowing that Hannity would then go on the air and publicize that information.

The second problem is that people are not just simply deported.  We have a legal system.  Even aliens present in the United States illegally may have certain forms of relief available under the law.  A person with a student visa cannot be deported without going to Immigration Court, and being found in violation of that status.  Hannity's statements seemed to betray an ignorance of how the system works.

Finally, I was deeply disturbed by this focus on the student's nationality.  It played upon the fear and distrust many have for Arabs in this country.  Never mind that the Sa'ud family itself is a close ally with the United States.  Never mind that painting with such a broad brush has the effect of perpetuating fear and bigotry against Arabs, when only a very small minority want to do us harm.

In the end, Hannity's focus on the Saudi student proved misguided, as we later learned that the suspects were ethnic Chechens, not Saudis.

But even then, the reaction I heard from some continued to disturb me.  When tuning in to the Rush Limbaugh Show on Friday, I heard Mark Steyn railing against the immigration system, and how the Government could have let these two live in our country.  I saw some of my "friends" in social media have similar reactions, complaining of how we could let people from these areas of the world come to our country.  Even Senator Grassley has used these chain of events in debating immigration reform.

Has the immigration system failed us?  From what is being reported now, these two men were granted refugee status almost twelve years ago.  They spent their teenage years in the United States.  One became a citizen of the United States.  We are not talking about someone who snuck across our borders illegally.  We are not talking about someone who misused a temporary visa to gain entry to the United States to perpetrate these attacks.  We are talking about a family who escaped violence and persecution overseas, and who has been present here for over a decade.  Whatever hate entered these two men's hearts, entered after they had come to this country.  Overhauls in the immigration system would have not likely prevented the Boston attack.

If there was a failure in the immigration system, it was a failure in enforcement.  Specifically, the older suspect apparently had a conviction for some sort of domestic violence.  Yes, certain crimes of domestic violence make a person, even a permanent resident, deportable.  But, at this point, the only information available on that is vague at best.  Domestic violence encompasses a wide array of crimes, not all of which would necessarily be deportable offenses.  Without more information, I cannot criticize immigration enforcement as it applies to these two individuals.

What I do know is that knee jerk reactions, especially when it comes to the immigration system, are unwise and unwarranted.  We can't simply ban a whole class of nationalities from entering the United States because we think that they are unfriendly to us.  Perhaps those who propose such a thing forgot our shameful past of detaining Japanese families during the Second World War for no reason other than ethnicity.  No.  We are the United States, and we are supposed to rise above such bigotry (a sentiment reinforced in me tonight, after having taken my children to see that fabulous movie about Jackie Robins, 42).

Plus, the politics of the Middle East and the Russian interior have very little to do with one of the main issues to be addressed in immigration reform: the millions of undocumented aliens already present in the United States.  The overwhelming majority of those aliens are Latinos who came to this country simply looking to work hard and send money home to their families.

No, the evil perpetrated upon Boston this week had very little to do with immigration policy.  Putting the brakes on immigration reform now, in reaction to the Boston bombings, would simply be a reaction out of xenophobia and bigotry.  We are better than that.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

1 comment:

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