Rights for the Few

My brother sent me a link on Saturday to an article on the controversial immigration law recently signed by the governor of Arizona. My first reaction was to be extremely pissed off, but then I decided that writing about it would be more productive, so here we go.

Immigration is the issue in the US that I get worked up about the most. To be honest, I had not thought much about it before I moved to Orange County for college. I was shocked, hurt, disgusted, confused and angry about the attitudes that some people in that area have about immigrants. In particular, illegal immigrants, which is understandable to a certain degree given its, well, illegality.

But as with all important things in our lives and in our world, it is a very complicated issue. There are many reasons that people come to the United States from other countries – economic, political, religious and academic opportunities and freedoms – among others. People call the US “the land of opportunity” but are we really willing to extend that to everyone? Who gets to come in, and who does not? What qualifies a person to reap the benefits of being a US citizen? I am not sure about about you, but I was born in the US by chance. With 195 countries in the world, it seems pretty unlikely to be born there. Do people who were unlucky enough to be born in a developing country not deserve to have the same rights to life, health, education and economic opportunities? Or are those actually privileges reserved for the few?

One Arizona rancher was quoted in an article from the BBC: “We have been absolutely overrun,” she says, “and our government has not done what they need to to maintain safety… I feel this is a national security issue.” I agree with the sentiment, but this new law is not the solution. Targeting individuals already in the US is not a sustainable option in the long run (and neither is reinforcing the fence, by the way). By fearing the other, by expelling the unwanted, we are closing our doors in the faces of people doing what they need to do to make a better life for themselves. We are essentially hoarding our resources from people who are needier than we are. Instead of closing our borders, we should do something positive and address the needs that people have that are driving them away from their homes in search of better lives.

Many people who come from Latin America, for example, are looking for an escape from problems largely caused by the United States. Politically, the United States has actively, actively, undermined democracy in the following countries in the past 50 years: Argentina, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Chile, Haiti. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. And that is just one region.

Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power (which I highly recommend) examines the bleak situation for rural Haitians he has served as a community doctor for several decades. In the early 1990s, the United States government denied entry to Haitian refugees, incorrectly labeling them economic refugees rather than political refugees. The US government could not grant them political asylum because they were fleeing from a military regime which was supported by the US and had come to power through a coup which overthrew the first democratically elected Haitian president. Not granting entrance to people who are fleeing from poverty has other alarming implications: did they mean that poverty is merely an inconvenience? Is it not the leading cause of death in the world? Are there not valid reasons that scholars refer to it as “structural violence”?

To briefly address the drug trafficking aspect of immigration issues: Colombia has repeatedly asked the United States government to crack down on the US side of trafficking (that is, consumption). The US is the largest market for cocaine coming out of Colombia. In a country with little economic opportunity or political stability, people make a living by farming coca and transporting it to the US. I’m not an economist, but it seems to me like they are acting on basic capitalist principles. If we don’t like what’s going on Colombia, we should stop contributing to the system.

If people are upset that poor people are entering the US, they have the option to do something positive about it. They can try to understand what circumstances people are leaving behind to come to the US, help people gain legal status, find someone a job, teach someone English, lobby the government to change inhumane policies and practices in foreign countries, go to another country and work for peace and justice. Does that sound unreasonable? Why? Because it is 100% easier to complain about the problems in our country and in our world rather than to do something about it. But is life really about doing what’s easy?

I believe in God. I believe He has called me, and each of us, to live deeply and to invest in one another. People sometimes say to me, “I could never do what you’re doing.” But I disagree. There are certainly inconvenient things about living outside the US, but they are hugely out weighed by the benefits. The hardest part of this experience is the heartache that comes from investing in someone else’s brokenness. Yes, I feel insignificant. Yes, I feel overwhelmed. Is it worth it? Absolutely. I know God wants something different for this place, and I will do my best to follow Him in the short time that I have. I took a leap of faith in moving here, and every moment, good and bad, has been completely worth it. But that is just my experience – there is plenty to be done within the US too.

Some people are upset about people immigrating to the US and disrupting our political and economic situation. Some people are angry about this new law in Arizona. Others are worked up about entirely different issues. That is excellent. That is what I mean when I talk about living deeply – we all have to be passionate about something. But we can’t stop there, we can’t just talk about it.

The United States really is the land of opportunity in many ways. Take a minute and just think of what kind of social power we hold within the people of our country. There are so many problems in our world. We can complain about it, or we can step up and do something. We can build fences and deport undesirables, hoarding our resources for ourselves – it could make the US a nicer place to live, but only on the surface. Just imagine if we mobilized all the privilege and the personal agency we possess for good and not for bad. What if US interests overseas actually, truly meant goodwill toward our neighbors and caring about individuals purely because they are people, just like us? Imagine what our country would be like then. That is my dream.

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