Commentary & Opinion
3:44 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Michael Meeropol: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers..."

I assume many listeners have seen the television footage of the angry mobs in places such as Murrieta, California and other places holding up signs urging the government to send back the immigrant children who were being bused to processing centers. 

See Protesters in California block busloads of immigrant children and families,” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/07/02/protesters-in-california-block-busloads-of-immigrant-children-and-families/)

The outrageous xenophobia represented by those people make me ashamed to be an American.  The only difference between these folks and an old-fashioned lynch mob is the rope and the fire.   The hatred, fear and ignorance are the same.

Thus, I was heartened to learn that at least at one anti-immigration demonstration (in Philadelphia) when anti-immigration protesters held a rally they were outnumbered four to one by pro-immigrant rights groups.

See “Philadelphia: Pro-Immigration Rally Overwhelms, Drowns Out Tea Party Protest” (http://americasvoice.org/blog/philadelphia-pro-immigration-rally-overwhelms-drowns-tea-party-protest/)

Much worse than the individuals in the anti-immigrant demonstrations have been the politicians who are using the humanitarian crisis created by the arrival of these immigrant children to attack President Obama for somehow causing the problem. 

Let’s remember that these children are asking for refugee status as per the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. 

See “President Bush signs William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to combat Human Trafficking,” http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/0812/081223washington.htm

This law passed the House on a voice vote and the Senate by unanimous consent.

Today, there are members of Congress who supported that law now blaming President Obama (not President Bush who signed it!).  They say that his executive order stopping deportation of young people who have lived in the United States for years is what has caused the recent upsurge of child immigrants.  This of course is nonsense since Obama’s executive order only applies to those undocumented immigrants who have been in this country for many years having been brought here as children.  To suggest that this order is convincing young people that all they have to do is get here and hide for 16 years and another President will do what Obama has done strains even the wildest imaginations.

And let us not forget that despite Obama’s action suspending the deportation of young people who have been in this country since childhood, his administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous administration.

In fact, arguments about whether Obama is enforcing immigration law too stringently or not forcefully enough are totally irrelevant to the mobs in California and the influx of children seeking refugee status.   The 2008 law is on the books and it must be followed.

The law states that anyone under the age of 18 entering the US illegally must “be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.” The U.S. Health and Human Services Department is to provide for their custody and care while deportation hearings are under way. The department is to attempt to find a parent or a sponsor in the United States while providing free legal representation and a child advocate.

THAT’S THE LAW.

It is the height of hypocrisy for those who argue that all so-called illegal immigrants be sent back home (even if they have lived in this country as Americans since the age of seven, have graduated from high school and college and been productive members of society) because “they broke the law coming here” to now suddenly behave as if the nation’s laws were a cafeteria – from which they can pick and choose which ones to support. 

Interestingly, those of us who believe that defining many immigrants as “illegal” is an illegitimate law can understand that impulse – we understand the argument raised by Henry David Thoreau who wrote the essay ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIANCE about his unwillingness to pay taxes to finance the Mexican War in 1848 – a refusal that earned him a night in jail.  (By the way, Thoreau’s essay influenced Gandhi whose life influenced Martin Luther King – I guess most people know that).

My problem with those who want to ignore the 2008 law while demanding that the law against so-called illegal immigration be vigorously enforced is that they usually puff themselves up and proclaim “we are a nation of laws.”  They would angrily deny that they are engaged in civil disobedience.

I call on everyone listening who truly believes in following the Biblical injunction to treat the “stranger among us” with hospitality to raise their voices against the vicious xenophobia on display in too many parts of the country and in support of those Governors (such as Governor Patrick of Massachusetts) who have made it clear that facilities in their states are available for temporary shelter for these immigrant children while they are processed according to the law.

The way to defeat bigotry and meanness is with a strong affirmation of our common humanity and decency.

Michael Meeropol is visiting professor of Economics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. He is the author (with Howard Sherman) of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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