I try to make it a habit to not focus on the anti-immigrant hysterics. My friends and neighbors already have enough to worry about just trying to live, work, worship, play, and go outdoors while being mindful of ICE, detention, and the possibility of being ripped from their families. But when a right-wing hate group masquerading as a moderate immigration policy think tank releases a misleading report about released undocumented criminals; when Fox News picks up on it and warns of the “dangerous illegals”; and when its readers vow to “shoot on site,” this anti immigrant sentiment becomes an issue that can’t be ignored.
The Center for Immigrant Studies is an innocent-sounding name for an immigration think tank that claims bi-partisanship. But it is anything but bi-partisan. The group releases study after study highlighting and manufacturing negative attributes of immigration, all in accordance with its founder. From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Although you’d never know it to read its materials, CIS was started in 1985 by a Michigan ophthalmologist named John Tanton — a man known for his racist statements about Latinos, his decades-long flirtation with white nationalists and Holocaust deniers, and his publication of ugly racist materials.
Right Wing Watch has a list of articles based on some of CIS’s “findings” and statements available here. At a Tea Party event in March, for example, a policymaker for CIS responds to a question about the so-called “Muslim invasion” of the US. Stephen Steinlight:
I don’t know what on earth we can do about Muslim immigration, I really don’t. I mean, if I had my druthers, we would bring back something like the McCarran act in the 50s, which barred communists and fascists on the grounds that they believe in things that are subversive to the Constitution. Well, Muslims believe in things that are subversive to the Constitution…
I think Islam is not so much a religion as a hideous totalitarian political creed looking for world supremacy.
So, we’re back to the fifties because some people apparently don’t believe in whatever version of the US Constitution that Steinlight believes they should. So much for freedom of religion. Oh yeah, that silly amendment to the US Constitution..
Steinlight also alleges that Latinos in the US don’t have “strong family values.” I do not know how to respond to this because I do not know what kind of “family values” SS is thinking of here. Much like the mythical “Islamic invasion,” this is an attempt dehumanize Latino families. Not too much unlike the lies during the slavery period about black people not having familial relations*, this myth makes it easier to separate undocumented citizens from their families.
Contrary, Latino families have a deserved reputation for having strong familial bonds, making community development and grassroots organization indispensable. Maybe the “family values” Steinlight and the Center for Immigration Studies is concerned about are their values – poor people keep to your status; don’t bother the white Anglos with your petty problems.
This kind of rhetoric, these lies about immigrant populations lead to dehumanizing views, bad policies (such as we see in Joe Arpaio’s and Jan Brewer’s Arizona), and direct violence. Not only do immigrants have to worry about the undeserved threat of deportation, now they have to worry about Fox Nation picking up guns to shoot at supposed dangerous criminal immigrants.
So imagine a perfect shit-storm where ultra-conservatives like Fox News’ Todd Starnes can label immigrants as dangerous felons, scare White nativist fans, and blame Obama for not being a merciless killer. CIS makes such a thing possible with its *ahem* misleading report saying that ICE has “released” 68,000 immigrant criminals a year.
Of course, the numbers lie. “Being released from ICE custody” means bonds, ankle bracelets, under supervision, or other arrangements to await trial, according to the American Immigration Council, much the same as with other prisoners. Having someone wait in a jail for their trial – which can take months – is a waste of lives, time, and tax payer dollars.
But not only is the report bogus, Todd Starnes and the fine people at Fox News take CIS’s liberties with language and add some of their own:
“Obama Unleashes Hordes of Dangerous Illegals onto American Streets.”
Anti-immigrant slurs! False accusations! danger white people! Danger! Danger!
First, human beings are not illegal, no matter if they jumped a fence in order to survive or not. No matter where they’re born and no matter where they reside. To call a human being “illegal” is to represent her or him as something less-than. It is to say she is innately sinister and evil, or that he is in need of “fixing” and “punishment.” It justifies cruel and unusual punishment and treatment. It is a justification for genocide.
Second, words like “hordes” conjures up ideas of zombies, of Visigoths and barbarians storming the castles, of beasts, of throngs of dangerous thugs roaming the streets. It is fear-baiting, and equates undocumented citizens with life-threatening, mindless undead looking for flesh. It sets up a scenario where White US nativists imagine themselves needing to protect their homes, possessions, and daughters from the imminent threat of criminal immigrants. We can see this scenario play out on Starnes’ Facebook page, actually, with his readers admonishing each other “to lock and load, shoot on sight” and “time to go hunting” along with the usual cries of socialism and martial law.
Third, there is no “unleashing”, as stated above. An ankle bracelet is certainly not an unfettering. Related, according to data compiled by Media Matters, Obama’s ICE has been prioritizing deporting immigrants with prior convictions. They consist of up to 88% of deportations caught and detained while in the US (there are larger numbers along the borders).
As a matter of fact, most immigrant advocates point to the fact that deportations have actually risen dramatically during the Obama administration (a policy that this progressive believes needs to be reversed). So pushes like this from Euro-American nativists persuade the current administration and Homeland Security to continue their practices of separating families from each other and embolden White Supremacists in their attempts to harm and kill immigrants and their families.
Starnes, of course, is a Christian. But I wonder how he can quote a Bible verse every morning on his page and yet miss all the passages about welcoming strangers and immigrants. All the verses that command Christians to be hospitable to immigrants as if we’re welcoming angels unaware, or the ones admonishing us to treat prisoners well. On this issue, the Bible is much more to the left than the president could ever be.
*These patently false myths made it easier to severe family members from each other while ‘selling’ husbands, wives and children as separate entities despite protests, begging, and cries to the contrary from the enslaved.
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