As I headed out from an appointment on Wednesday, I walked passed a recently delivered newspaper on the ground outside the office building. It was folded up inside a clear plastic bag. The following headline jumped out at me:
ICE¹ sweep nets 5 local immigrants
Officials say those who commit crimes deserve ticket out of town
I bent over to get a better look, and to read the portion of the article² that was visible through the plastic. I was disturbed. The headline and the article seemed to suggest that immigrants are criminals.
A closer reading of the article revealed that in fact the individuals who had been arrested were charged with various crimes, some of them more serious than others, and in addition were immigrants. (Well, actually, they were tracked down because they were immigrants who had committed these crimes.)
At the same time, the article did contain various subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions that illegal immigrants are somehow menacing. Take this section about the reactions of a local police chief:
“I don’t have a problem with them going around and trying to round up these illegal immigrants,” said [town] Police Chief […]. “Illegal immigration just can’t be tolerated.”
With two convicted criminals from his town arrested, the chief said it’s high time the government start getting illegal aliens off the streets. The group has largely been overlooked in the past, “creating a problem on a couple of angles that people don’t want to look at,” he said.
[Town] Police are seeing some crimes increase with illegal immigration, particularly unlicensed automobile operation charges.
One overarching problem I have with the article is the way the discourse is framed. A careful reading of the article shows that the particular individuals arrested had been convicted of crimes. But let’s face it. Not everyone takes the time to read articles closely. It would be all too easy for a reader to be left with the impression that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes, and that illegal immigrants are particularly threatening. Consider this phrase, taken out of its context:
crimes increase with illegal immigration.
No discussion of the complexity of the issues and no contrary viewpoints were offered. The tone of the article is congratulatory towards the ICE. A casual reader would have the impression that the general public attitude towards this ICE sweep is of approval. That the issues are clearcut. Even that the arrest of these individuals is just the surface of the festering problem of “criminal aliens”.
The article, as well as many ostensibly neutral reportings of issues relating to immigration in the media, reflects a subtle undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment. (And don’t even get me started on the venomous hardcore anti-immigration set.)
This increased xenophobia quite honestly reminds me of other dark times in our world’s history. When things look dark, whether it’s because of plague or economic depression or threats of war, people look for someone to blame. When the issues are complex, it is hard to pinpoint the source of the problem. What it is easy to do is pick some group to shoulder the blame. Communists. Gypsies. Jews. Witches.
Our country is at war. Gas prices and living expense are rising. Homelessness and unemployment rates are high. Many people are finding it hard to make ends meet. People want answers. People want solutions. But because these are not quick or easy to achieve, people want to blame. It’s so much easier to blame the other, because blaming those that are too close to us seems not to accomplish anything. Lately, immigrants, especially those that have violated current immigration laws, have been offered up and targeted for blame.
The issue of immigration is one that I think about often, though I have not yet ventured to write on the topic. It’s been hard to work myself up it, even though I have many thoughts I’d like to write down. For the most part, though, I write about fairly lightweight topics on this blog. This is because I write primarily for my own amusement and for the potential entertainment of others. I like to write with humor, even when the topics touch on seriousness. But I just can’t find anything funny about the growing hate and intolerance evidenced in the discussion of immigration issues.
¹ US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
² Note: The online headline reads: Immigrants face deportation³
³ Note (added later): I forgot to mention that I stopped to buy my own copy of the paper on my way home, so that I could read the article more closely. Which is how I noticed the two different headlines.