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9512Rising Hate for Migrants Worldwide Starts with Criminalizing Them

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  • shaji
    Dec 17, 2010
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      Rising Hate for Migrants Worldwide Starts with Criminalizing Them

      by Pramila Jayapal


      December 15 2010


      This Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of International
      Migrants Day and the 20th anniversary of the passage of the
      U.N. Convention to Protect Migrant Workers. This is an
      important moment to reflect on the fact that today nearly
      one billion people are on the move across the world, and
      they are increasingly the target of hatred and violence.
      That's why I am celebrating International Migrants Day by
      signing the pledge to respect immigrants everywhere by
      dropping the i-word and demanding that the media do the

      Politicians and media alike use the word "illegal" to
      describe human beings without immigration status, sometimes
      shortening "illegal immigrant" to "illegals." While this may
      seem trivial to some, the language of criminality plays an
      enormous part in moving people along the continuum from
      language to violent behavior. Calling people "illegal,"
      describing them in ways that make them less them human,
      recasts them as members of an undeserving sub-class that are
      owed less respect than what would otherwise be acceptable
      for "regular" human beings.

      We know that, leading up to and during World War II,
      language was a powerful factor in moving an ideological and
      genocidal agenda. The language of elimination of an entire
      race - described as the "final solution" - was used
      frequently and without apology. In the decades following the
      Holocaust, this kind of language was widely condemned and
      deemed unacceptable. And yet, as recently as this year, we
      have seen genocidal language directed at migrants worldwide.

      Consider the recent statement of the deputy mayor of the
      Italian city of Treviso in relation to the issue of the
      undocumented Roma migrants: "I want a revolution against
      gypsies ... I want to eliminate all the gypsy children who

      Or consider the United States, where anti-immigrant
      extremists have painted a picture of all-out warfare that
      threatens the very idea of nationhood. Conservative
      commentator Pat Buchanan claimed on MSNBC that the influx of
      undocumented immigrants into the U.S. is "an invasion, the
      greatest invasion in history ... the last scene is the
      deconstruction of the nations."

      The leap from fear mongering to violence - vigilantism or
      state-sponsored - is surprisingly short. The imagery of war
      and warfare helps to up the ante. After all, if this is
      really war, we must protect "our own."

      Across the world, violence against immigrants is on the
      rise. The Libyan government, according to a report just
      released by Amnesty International, has been torturing
      undocumented African migrants through electric shock and
      beating, even shooting at fishing boats because they may
      have held "illegal immigrants."

      In Sweden, shortly after the far right, anti-immigrant party
      won a place in Parliament for the first time, police
      arrested a 38-year-old man suspected of carrying out a dozen
      shootings, nearly all immigrants, where one person died and
      eight were wounded.

      In the United States, the FBI has documented a dramatic
      increase in reported hate crimes against Latinos, from 595
      in 2003 to 888 in 2007. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, armed
      vigilante groups who claim to be "dedicated to the defense
      of American patriotism" are on the rise, and the New York
      Times has consistently reported on the number of deaths that
      occur in detention centers due to callous disregard for
      medical needs of immigrant detainees.

      One of our challenges in fighting the criminalization of
      migrants is that the most extreme voices in the
      dehumanization of immigrants have been legitimized by the
      media and politicians as representatives of the "other side"
      of the immigration debate. In spite of numerous reports from
      the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center
      and Media Matters that call out the connections to clear
      racist and xenophobic ideologies, groups such as the
      Federation for American Immigration Reform are routinely
      called on to give testimony in Congress or provide comments
      for news stories. Their racism skews the bounds of
      reasonable discourse about immigrants - and as a result sets
      extreme new bounds for reasonable policy, too.

      As economic insecurity heightens, Americans and Europeans
      who would otherwise support rational and human polices on
      migration - polls consistently find vast majorities in this
      camp - are drawn into fear. It becomes socially acceptable,
      and even personally necessary, to scapegoat or become
      violent towards someone else - namely, immigrants.

      In this polarized environment, some policy makers have
      fueled the frenzy by embracing restrictionist policies that
      further criminalize immigrants. The success in exploiting
      fear in an increasingly fragile economic environment has led
      to fringe political parties across the world coming into
      power for the first time.

      The Guardian has documented the rise of these fringe parties
      in Europe to "such a degree that they are now in the
      position of propping up governments." Parties that espouse
      anti-Muslim views have gained ground, and state-sponsored
      policies that ban core practices of Islam (such as burkhas
      in France or minarets in Switzerland) are increasingly
      common. In the U.S., politicians who hold extreme anti-
      immigrant views are now in positions of power in the House
      of Representatives and are expected to introduce
      unprecedentedly regressive legislation, including an attempt
      to amend the Constitution's birthright-citizenship clause.

      Some are also pushing back, recognizing the real danger we
      face of escalating violence and polarization. In early 2010,
      Pope Benedict XVI, reacting to the riots in Southern Italy
      in which African immigrants were attacked, reminded people
      that, "An immigrant is a human being, different in
      background, culture and tradition, but a person to be
      respected, and possessing rights and duties. ...Violence
      must never be a way to resolve differences."

      We need to push back more - and take the hate out of the
      debate. It's time to stop using racist, fear-mongering
      language that promotes and even condones violence. It's time
      to create space for a rational, thoughtful and humane
      discussion around migration and immigration policies that
      support the economic and moral need for managed flows of
      people. Join me in celebrating International Migrants Day by
      taking a simple but significant stand for humanity. Take the
      pledge and Drop the I-Word.

      [Pramila Jayapal is the founder and Executive Director of
      OneAmerica. She is an immigrant from India and has spent
      over twenty years working for social justice, both
      internationally and domestically. Under her leadership,
      OneAmerica has achieved significant policy change in
      Washington State, leading efforts to win numerous victories
      for immigrants including: a New Americans Executive Order
      signed by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, a
      comprehensive plan to address the needs of immigrant
      communities in Seattle, an ordinance preventing any City of
      Seattle employee from inquiring about immigration status,
      and numerous resolutions at the city and county level
      upholding the human rights and dignity of immigrants and
      affirming the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
      Also under her leadership, OneAmerica has engaged in the
      first large-scale immigrant voter registration program in
      the state, registering tens of thousands of new citizens to
      vote and organizing within immigrant communities to engage
      and involve immigrants in democracy. Nationally, Pramila
      has helped to lead the fight for due process and
      comprehensive immigration reform, serving as Vice Chair of
      the Rights Working Group national coalition as well as on
      the Executive Committee of the Fair Immigration Reform
      Movement. In 2008, she was appointed by Governor Gregoire
      as Vice Chair of the New Americans Policy Council.]