Saturday, July 17, 2010

Vigilantes, Go Home


Things have gotten a tad dicey in Arizona.

Governor Jan Brewer signed a controversial new immigration law in April which allows police to question a person's immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The Minutemen Movement patrols the desert on foot, horseback and in airplanes, reporting suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, which has more agents than ever.

And now Jason "J.T." Ready, an ex-Marine with ties to the National Socialist Movement, has declared his own war on "narco-terrorists." The NSM is a neo-Nazi organization that believes only non-Jewish, white heterosexuals should be American citizens and that all non-whites should leave the country, "peacefully or by force." He and his group wear military fatigues, body armor and gas masks and are heavily armed with both assault rifles and the conviction that they are operating in service to God and country, which history has shown is a most dangerous combination.

"We're not going to sit around and wait for the government anymore," Ready said. "This is what our founding fathers did." It's hard to picture George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in powdered wigs with swastikas on their sleeves. Law enforcement officials say that such patrols undermine the work of officers on duty along the border, especially if they try to enforce the law themselves by vigilante "justice." This can only end badly.

The people who came to America, and in many instances brutally displaced the Native Americans, viewed these shores as a place of refuge from persecution, poverty, and a lack of opportunity to pursue success. The United States seems to be suffering a schism of identity in which we still pride ourselves on being a free country which welcomes immigrants while we also strive to keep them out.

The Statue of Liberty welcomes people to New York Harbor with these words engraved on her base: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." Her upraised torch is a symbol of enlightenment, showing the path to Liberty. She is not in Arizona.

If we no longer believe in the concept symbolized by this statue, perhaps we should dismantle it and return it to France, which gave it to America in 1885 to celebrate the friendship between the two countries and a shared reverence for freedom. But if we fail to control vigilante activity wherever it exists, a statue of Hitler might take her place.

36 comments:

Molly said...

I'm not sure where I stand on this one. My husband's family waited six years before they could immigrate here after World War Two. I see my fellow countrymen coming here, education and abilities in hand, to work and gain experience. But first they must have the requisite visas and documents. And after six months, when their visas expire, they have to go home to Ireland, even though they have been supporting themselves and contributing to our economy by working. I guess if immigrants go through legal channels I have no problem with it, but why apply the rules to some nationalities and not to others? If you are an "illegal immigrant," my understanding of the language is that you do not have the right to be here. Maybe we need to use different terminology---"guest workers" or some such, and have the rights such persons are entitled to clearly defined, as well as those they are not entitled to--- for people who perform valuable work that Americans themselves don't want to do?
I love that inscription on the Statue of Liberty and the chance of a new life it has provided for so many. Those crazy fringe vigilantes are evil and dangerous. Surely there must be an intelligent, legal way to solve this whole problem? Where is American ingenuity in all this? Or do politicians check their brains at the door once they're elected?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Molly,

Your comment is far more well considered than my rather inflammatory post. I am conflicted about our policies, but adamant that vigilantes should not be allowed to do their dirty deeds unchecked. That is not the kind of freedom we should stand for, ever.

My ancestors came through Ellis Island and were immensely grateful for the opportunity to put down roots here and to work hard in a relatively safe climate for minorities.

I agree that the rules should not be applied to some nationalities but not others. The events of 9-11 changed America forever, whether we like it or not. But most people are not terrorists, and the vigilantism in Arizona and elsewhere unfairly targets Hispanics.

I don't think that people should be allowed to be here illegally, both for reasons of national security and out of fairness to those who come with documents in order, but I do object to harassment of random Hispanic-looking people.

And yes, politicians do check their brains at the door. It's the law.

secret agent woman said...

Vigilantes scare the bejeeebers out of me. And where would the Native Americans, who are non-white, go if they had to leave the country? Crazy.

Jo said...

Gosh, it's a problem that requires the wisdom of Solomon, isn't it? I have a friend who immigrated to California from London. But after three years she was no longer able to stay, so she is now living in Canada. She is well-educated with a university degree. Her mother was born in the U.S., but only lived there for one year, so my friend is not eligible to live there under the circumstances that her mother was born there.

So now my friend sits here in Canada, her home and her friends are in Los Angeles, and she can't live there. She is understandably angry at the thousands of illegal immigrants who are living there, while she is obeying the immigration laws of the United States.

Unfortunately, I suppose the largest number of illegal immigrants are Hispanics, so they are being targeted by vigilantes, and that should stop. Perhaps the whole immigration process should be reconsidered. About ten years ago there was a huge problem with people from the Orient being smuggled into Canada and the U.S. Those folks paid their smugglers $$thousands of dollars, and still remain indebted to them.

America was once the land of freedom and opportunity for people from all over the world, but unfortunately it's just the opposite now.

Jo said...

I forgot to mention, my friend is Jewish, and her family escaped from Poland just before the war. She says all of her life she has felt a bit like a "displaced person", but in Los Angeles she finally found a place where she felt at home. She loves it there. Must be all those wonderful folks in California. ;-)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Agent,

If ethics were actually a factor, everyone BUT the Native Americans should leave.

Jo,

I'm sorry for your friend's sad plight, which seems terribly wrong. I get the uneasy feeling that our immigration policy has almost become a crap shoot, with arbitrary choices being made which often have no basis in common sense. Many Latin American people are so desperate to get here that they pay smugglers called "coyotes" huge sums to bring them into the country. I think the vigilantes make things worse both for legitimate law enforcement agents and for the so-called "illegals" who are, sadly, often packed into airless vans and abandoned to die near the border.

The issue is far too complicated for me to fully understand, but in this troubled economy it's easy to see why many people have a deprivation mentality. It's unfair for illegal immigrants to receive benefits that legitimate citizens, both American-born and immigrant, are denied. And yet, turning away those in dire need seems terribly inhumane. I have no idea how to solve these 21st century problems, but neo-Nazis who would rid our country of all persons of color as well as Jews should not be allowed free range or given any power.

mischief said...

Your word verification today says"grittier".

I wish I knew more about immigration law in Canada. Or maybe it would anger me and I would wish I didn't know anything about it at all.

I used to teach adult ESL to recent Canadian immigrants and loved their stories of immigration.

There were significant differences in what people had to do to get permission to immigrate depending upon their place of origin.

Some had to show bank account statements to prove they could afford to establish a residence. Some had to have relatives already in the country to "sponsor" them - again with money in accounts to prove the ability to be self-sufficient. Others had to have undergraduate degrees or be members of professional associations; the irony of this was that upon arrival in Canada their credentials were deemed worthless and they were forced to work at jobs that were far beneath their education levels. And some, those who were living in war-torn countries, entered as refugees, and in those cases there weren't really any rules at all.

I don't know why the rules are different for different people - although I understand why refugees have special status. And yet there were people living in countries that were not at war who still seemed to be very much in need of refuge from poverty, sexism, racism...

I used to have a boss, a very good boss, who didn't believe in working conditions being exactly the same for every employee. He was the boss of a school where every employee was doing a very different job. And when people aired this complaint in staff meetings, he would respond, "We are all equals, but equal doesn't always mean the same". I rather liked that. Some people did not.

Arizona... I like Arizona. I like the hummingbirds and beautiful cactus flowers and sunsets. It's a lovely place. I might try to sneak in too if I lived closer.

Warty Mammal said...

I am saddened by the stone cold racism which accompanies much immigration debate. It seems that "illegal" has become a slur on par with n-----. When I read news articles online, a hispanic surname instantly brings on cries of "send the illegals back to Mexico" which are on par with the "send the n--- back to Africa" which I used to hear during my childhood.

People in California, and perhaps elsewhere, forget that California was once part of Mexico. Immigration debate aside, there are many, many people here with hispanic surnames whose families lived here before statehood.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Lisa,

Immigration law is nothing if not gritty.

As I understand the word "equal" in the context of human rights, It does not mean identical, but of the same standard. Under the law, one person does not have more value than another. America was built by waves of immigrants who arrived at different times and made different contributions. I have no idea how quotas are determined, but people from countries most like our own seem to receive preferential treatment.

Arizona is very beautiful, but we have hummingbirds, cactus and sunsets in California, too. You should come and see for yourself sometime.

Warts,

Racism never goes away. It just changes hands sometimes.

California was once indeed part of Mexico, as were Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And after the indigenous people who were here at least 15,000 years ago, Hispanics have been on this land longer than any of the newcomers.

libhom said...

Molly: The people who are coming to this country from Mexico "illegally" are the indigenous people of this continent. They shouldn't be facing any restrictions on their movement. It's racist to suggest that they should.

TechnoBabe said...

Whew. Hubby and I have been reading the news in Arizona since the talk about passing the bill began. Hubby is from Phoenix and his brother still lives there. It saddens and frightens me to read the hate that comes through the various organizations for people other than the ones they accept. I think that if all the people from Mexico left the state of Arizona, the state would find itself in financial stress. I totally believe in entering a country legally and feel the system in the US does not have a system in place that oversees the legal entry properly. When I was living in San Diego I personally know of places where fences are altered and people walk back and forth at will. Also know of situations where Border Patrol is paid and people enter illegally. The whole thing stinks, sort of like the war on drugs which is a tug of war and a joke. Very thought provoking post, I enjoy reading your posts so much.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Libhom,

While I agree with your sentiments on principle, that the descendants of indigenous people should be unrestricted, in practicality there are now political boundaries, whether we like it or not. The autonomy of every nation should be respected, including this one.

I didn't detect racism in Molly's comment, just frustration that some people reap benefits unfairly while others who do everything "right" do not.

Thank you for your visit!

Babe,

I lived in San Diego, too, and know that many people crossed the border regularly with impunity while I had to go through Customs whenever I returned from a visit to Mexico.

Last year, there was a designated day in which Hispanic people in the Bay area boycotted their workplaces in an attempt to demonstrate how necessary they were to the running of our economy. Call me naive, but I believe if everyone could set aside their anger and hostility, maybe we'd have a chance to solve this problem fairly for all.

Jo said...

I work for the CDC, and the problem with illegal immigrants is that they enter a country without going through the medical screening process. That means, any infectious diseases they have -- that perhaps they are not even aware they have -- are not detected. That leaves the possibility open for spread of infection. Unfortunately Mexico and the other South American countries, as well as China, Indian, the Philippines, and many African countries, are endemic for many diseases including tuberculosis.

In Canada, when an immigrant goes through the medical screening process, and if they are diagnosed with either latent or active TB, they are immediately treated -- for free. Latent TB can very quickly become active and infectious, and can be spread throughout the general population, simply by being in close contact -- such as working in a household, or sitting next to someone in school.

The United States has an estimated 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 illegal immigrants from countries where infectious diseases are endemic. Wouldn't the rest of the population want to know that these people are being treated?

We had a case very recently of an individual with TB who worked in a factory, and infected 500 people. Who wants to draw the short straw and be one of those people?

We actually have cases of leprosy here now in our city. If someone comes here and has these diseases, I certainly want to know about it, and I would want to make darn good and sure they are treated and cured. This is done through the legal immigration screening process -- a complete medical examination including chest x-rays.

Unfortunately, there is much more to immigration -- both legal and illegal -- than just feeling of humanity toward other unfortunate folks. I do believe a country has the right to protect its own citizens as well.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Jo,

You know, public health cannot be argued with. Everything you've said makes perfect sense. It's easy for well-meaning people, and I think I am one of them, to forget the practical considerations, which you have so eloquently demonstrated.

Thank you for your common sense approach to a sticky issue. There really is no excuse for subjecting any population to infectious diseases, many of which people in this country are no longer even innoculated against, which could easily and rapidly become deadly pandemics.

lgsquirrel said...

Hearts, I am sorry but I have long abandoned any image of America as the Land of the Free. Of course, no country is perfect and some of what you describe is probably worse in some countries but USA has lost its right to even aspire to be the pin-up girl for freedom, equality and democracy.

Unfortunately, the distinction between races and ethnic groups remain strong and each try to get advantages over the others through lobbying, financial and political influence. While I agree that Arizona is wrong in singling out Hispanics for harassment, but then Florida is wrong in singling out Cubans for special refugee status. Where is the equality?

There are too many ethnic lumps in the American melting pot. I recently came across this post by a newly sworn in Canadian which gives a very different take which is the Canadian model of cultural mosaic. Worth a read, I think at http://manuelaz.blogspot.com/2010/07/i-am-canadian.html

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Calvin,

I said that the US still prides itself on being a free country. I did not say that we were correct in all our assumptions, but yes, we are far better off here than people in many other countries. I don't know of any that are perfect.

It would be wonderful if ethnic separations did not exist, but I also believe that the world would be a far less interesting place if different ethnicities did not exist. They all add their own distinct flavors to the pot, but getting them to respect and value each other remains far more difficult than it should be.

Thanks for passing on that link. I'll read it now.

Maria said...

Wow. I spent a good half hour reading comments and taking them in.

What stands out, though is this: People are being harassed in our county because of their race. That is the bottom line. No matter how one stands on the issue of illegal immigrants, that one picture remains. People are being singled out because of their race and forced to show documentation. There is something so wrong with this picture and no one seems to want to look at this.

I have no problem with illegal immigrants and I am in the medical profession. I have read the research (propaganda) regarding the "illnesses" and whatnot that they supposedly bring in. It is flawed research and unreliable.

There is a strong movement where I live regarding illegal immigrants. Whenever I drive by them with their placards, standing on street corners, I am struck by the looks of smug hatred on their faces and it turns my stomach. We have so many other issues in this county that need our attention. I think that the issue of illegal immigration draws a lot of the hate mongers out in our population and so the sentiment gets lost in the fanaticism.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Maria,

Yes, of course it's racism. I think that if our neighbors to the north were suddenly taken with the urge to enter this country, no one would notice or object.

When I lived in North Carolina, a white man shot a Mexican migrant worker at close range and only served 2 weeks in jail. Supposedly they let him go because it was his word against a dead man's, but the bottom line was clear: the authorities didn't care. It was a sickening display of racism which didn't even make the papers.

As for contagious diseases, it's also true that with widespread airplane travel, they can be brought into the country by Americans as well as other people because we can't be innoculated against everything.

The main point of my post was that vigilantes are dangerous people, especially the ones with neo-Nazi associations. But the discussion morphed into an exploration of how we feel about illegal immigrants, which is perhaps more interesting because most of us probably agree about Nazis.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Maybe we should move the vigilantes to their own isolated island in the arctic where everything is white... which would fix everyone's issues. ;P


XO

Very good post, deep, thoughtful comments and good conversation and thinking material.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

PeterAtLarge said...

I think the problem here is not with those who want to enter this country--as I myself did, decades ago--but with an antiquated immigration system, and immigration laws and their hopelessly inadequate implementation. The bottom line, as always, is money: who needs it, who wants it, who's got it, who refuses to spend it, and who wants to keep their hands on it. It's the promise of money--and the security it seems to offer--that attracts vast numbers in desperation to these shores; and irrational fear of deprivation that provokes the anger of those who seek to keep them out. Given the national hysteria on nearly every front these days, there seems to be little hope of resolving this issue in a reasonable, good-faith, humanitarian way. Too bad.

mrwriteon said...

Xenophobes come with many stripes, and swastikas, apparently. I get torn on this one, and we have the same rednecks here who will blame virtually all crime and social malaise on recent immigrants -- especially Asian, and ignore all the worthy Canadians at the same time. At the same time, however, we have situations in which authorities have refused to deport dangerous criminals (with huge bankrolls that can hire powerful lawyers) but will boot out some poor Sri Lankan grannie. I'm blathering, but I can understand the impulse of getting fed up. We work hard, and if aliens are seen as disrupting the fabric of society, then vigilantism is bound to arise.

Jocelyn said...

Ah, crap on all this.

Do you ever watch Stephen Colbert? We stream it online, so you could, if you don't. The July 8th episode features Arturo Gonzalez, pres of the United Farmer Workers, and he is awesome. At the end of the interview, he publicizes the Web site takeourjobs.org, which is a place where American citizens wanting to do the work of immigrant workers (illegal or not) can sign up for a job as a farm laborer. As of the interview, exactly three American citizens had laid claim to a job done by an immigrant worker.

So suck on that, angry complainers, I say.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

Sounds like a plan -- or better yet, maybe we could use them to plug the oil leak.

Peter,

I'm quite sure that your immigration experience as a white Englishman was different.

The terrorists who flew airplanes into the WTC entered this country with doctored passports and student visas, so it seems that those issuing them should adhere to a more stringent standard.

Ian,

We have plenty of home-grown criminals here, too. Closing our doors to all immigrants is not going to make us crime-free.

Canada is so much less populous than the US, though - it seems an ideal place for people to build a new life.

Jocelyn,

I have actually picked apples briefly with migrant farm workers from Mexico and Guatemala. It's unbelievably back-breaking work.

TaraDharma said...

Vigilantes run counter to the founding principles of this country. We have a political and judicial system in place precisely to bring an impartiality to our affairs. That they cannot accept the systems in place, or engage in meaningful ways to change the system, tells it all. They are narrow-minded and ignorant and sadly, dangerous.

It's easy to mouth off and express your outrage in a temper tantrum kind of way. Much harder, and requires intelligence and maturity, to act logically and justly.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Tara,

Vigilantes are criminals, taking the law into their own hands. Legislators sometimes pass unfair laws, or simply laws we don't like, but there are peaceful ways to protest them while anarchy benefits no one.

Jo said...

In Canada, when an immigrant goes through the medical screening process, if they are found to have TB or HIV/AIDS, for example, they are treated -- for free. They are not barred from the country. Medical surveillance is a good thing for everyone involved. Often folks come from countries where these diseases would not be diagnosed or treated. It's not propaganda or flawed research, and is not meant as a form of vigilantism. It is a process that has been set up through the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control. We live in a very small global community.

The Fool said...

It's really hard for most to take in and face, but we are one of the most racist countries in the world. Americans are brutally and overtly racist as they espouse equality for all. If we have the heart to change, then we really need to start with this admittance.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

John,

Recognizing the problem is always the first step toward solving it. I'm not sure how we stack up against most other countries, but I'm regularly disappointed that we have not progressed more by now.

Jocelyn said...

Oh, darn. I know I've read this terrific bit of writing too late in my day when my gut reaction is "Peacefully or By Force" would be a great name for a blog.

Le sigh.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Jocelyn,

It would be a terrific name for a blog - I wish I'd thought of it. Or maybe a love poem.

comfortandjoy said...

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses..."

I learned those words at a very young age, and they have always fed my soul. To this day, I hold them in my mouth, savoring them like good chocolate. And I daydream about an impossibly large and generous woman who wears a crown and offers me a warm place to sleep.

I'm not adding much to this discussion. Except the words are so beautiful, and we are all so tired and poor and in need of rest, I think.

CJ

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cj,

Welcome back after a long, long hiatus! I'm so happy to hear from you.

I agree about the beauty of those words, and the sentiments expressed. I don't know of anything else Emma Lazarus wrote, but this inscription was a winner for the ages.

Elaine Steward said...

A significant problem with Arizona's law is that, since the Spanish were in the US Southwes first, many individuals who "look like" illegals (read: Mexicans) have been in the area since before it was part of the US. The Americans did not just displace Native Americans - they did the same to the Spanish and French who preceeded them. Apparently, we STILL believe in "Manifest Destiny" or "God told me to do it!"

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Elaine,

It seems that any kind of atrocity can be committed in God's name - it's the Crusades Redux.

I've been reading about people leaving Arizona in droves, ahead of the law, including those who are legally here but married to "illegals" because it is now against the law to transport an illegal. There is absolutely nothing about this that is right. We should all be ashamed.

Mercurious said...

I'm with you on this one. From a detached perspective, the whole idea of national boundaries is quite bizarre, as for most of human history, people have wandered quite freely around the planet. What happens, I wonder, if someone is expatriated and no other country will accept him? Do we jettison him into space?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Mercurious,

Sounds like a plan. May I suggest candidates?

Thanks for your visit! The outwardly respectable, secretly deranged are always welcome here.