Human Rights Aren’t Defined by Borders

A child and his mother have a simple plea as they attend a rally together.

Photo Credit: Linda Davidson

A child and his mother have a simple plea as they attend a rally together.

Quinn White, Reporter

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Flashy headlines sport claims of immigrants invading our country, murdering some innocent individual, or exploiting the social security system. The inflammatory rhetoric that permeates coverage of immigration has become the norm, and it has real consequences.

Dehumanization of immigrants, particularly illegal, has become accepted in our political climate. Our current commander-in-chief has played a major role in securing this new reality. Claims that immigrants “pour into and infest our Country” blur our vision of these immigrants as people. The term ‘infest’, in particular, is generally reserved for insects or pests.

This kind of language is inexcusable. It’s not only inconsiderate and demeaning, but it also changes the nature of our dialogue on immigration.  Even the term ‘illegal alien’, while technically referring to one from a foreign country, carries the weight of characterizing immigrants as fundamentally distinct from the native-born.

Beyond casting immigrants in a negative light, much of the rhetoric surrounding immigration has been designed to incite fear. Trump has made drastic efforts to bring publicity to members of society that have been harmed by illegal immigrants. He took an emotionally charged angle when he once asked his audience, “To those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security, I would ask: Imagine if it was your child, your husband, or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken?”

But contrary to what Trump is trying to argue, the illegal immigrants that commit these violent crimes do not represent the vast majority of illegal immigrants. Studies, such as two from University of Wisconsin as well as one from the Cato Institute, have found that illegal immigrants do not increase the violent crime rate. We have seen this at the state level, too. In Alabama, for example, after strict laws caused many illegal immigrants to leave the state, the rate of violent crime remained virtually unchanged, as reported in a study by Texas A&M University.

However, giving disproportionate attention to these specific cases of immigrant crimes encourages the public to make the illogical fallacy of a hasty generalization, assuming that horrific crimes are far more common in immigrants than they really are. The fixation on the idea that, according to Trump, “they’re bringing crime” and “they’re bringing drugs”, shapes our perceptions of who these people really are. When we succumb to panic about foreigners trying to come and take our jobs and quality of life, we lose the ability to process the facts logically.

There is a lingering question that comes up again and again, weighted with judgement: why don’t people just come here legally? The truth is, it’s not easy. Qualifying for a green card can take years or even decades. For many, that long of a waiting period just doesn’t seem like a viable option. Within the context of fear and desperation, crossing the border illegally in hopes of obtaining a better quality of life can be the best option. Citizens here can try to judge that decision, to think that if we were in the same place, that we would follow the legal processes. However, we haven’t been in that same situation, and it’s ridiculous to make the assumption that we would act differently.

The us versus them mentality that is now so common can make us forget the simple truth that these immigrants, legal or illegal, are human. They share the same basic desires that we who just happened to be born here do, to find safety and stability for our families.

Often forgotten is the fact that much of the work illegal immigrants do is so strenuous that most native-born Americans turn away from it. In 2011 in North Carolina, for instance, when there were almost half a million unemployed in the state, farmers advertised over 6,000 job openings. Only seven native-born Americans took the jobs and finished the season. Long days farmworking demand being crouched over for hours in close contact with pesticides, often in exhausting heat. As much as these immigrants are portrayed as a burden to society, the reality is entirely different.

Whatever your views may be on what immigration policy will be the most effective, we cannot move forward until we take a step back from defensive tendencies toward fear. For a nation built off of immigration, the U.S. has a dark history of allowing fear to concentrate into hate. Nativism has been threaded throughout this country’s past. But we don’t have to fall prey to that persistent way of thinking. We can do better.

People coming here often have faced circumstances that we cannot imagine, from crippling poverty to living in constant fear of violence. It’s time we take a moment to pause and have empathy for those across our borders. Respect is not a condition of citizenship.