Thursday, September 11, 2008

Aurora Tragedy: Avoiding Misplaced Blame

Last Thursday in Aurora, two women and an infant child were killed in a horrendous and tragic car crash. When something so unimaginable occurs, our entire community is thrust into mourning.

However, in the aftermath of this terrible event, the discussion has turned fully from the tragedy itself into what Tom McGhee of The Denver Post is fairly calling "the car crash blame game." Rather than allowing a family and community to mourn the heartbreaking loss of three people's lives, the public discussion has turned to anti-immigrant hatred and bigotry.

This heartbreaking incident has ignited a painfully myopic and divisive discussion. One individual with a history of grave traffic violations is being used to leverage terror and rage at an entire community. It is fair to be outraged at the driver's recklessness. It is an illogical leap to tie this to his immigration status.

Study after study shows that immigrants in every ethnic group in the United States commit crimes at lower rates than do native born citizens. Yet one person's egregious behavior is being discussed as somehow derivative of the manner in which he entered this country. More offensively, criminality is projected onto the millions of hard-working folks who come to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their children. 

The tragedy in Aurora should not be a platform for discussing our broken immigration system, but we can clearly agree that it is broken.

Had the federal government enacted policy reform to resolve the legal status of the millions of folks who are unable to regulate their immigration status under current law, the immigration status of those arrested for crimes would be a non-issue. In the absence of such reform, the current vitriol against immigrants as a whole unjustly divides us at a moment when we should be united to support the families of the victims.

In this moment of great sorrow, let's not lower ourselves to misguided assumptions. The intolerable and premature loss of three lives is a reason to pull together in mutual caring, not give into the politics of blame.

1 comment:

Coloradans For Immigrant Rights said...

this was in the Denver Post:
There is certainly no question that the car accident that resulted in the death of two women and a child was a tragedy. But as a community, we must be careful to not compound the tragedy of that accident by pursuing rash anti-immigrant agendas that would only serve to divide us further.

Many have demanded to know why Francis Hernandez was on the road at all. Because he had prior arrests and his immigration status was in question, people have asked why he was not kept in custody or placed in deportation proceedings. But in examining these questions, we need to recognize that both the immigration and criminal justice systems are broken. The immigration system is plagued by backlogs and our national debate is so toxic that it has become virtually impossible for many immigrants to achieve their dreams of becoming full partners in the U.S. community. And our criminal justice system is woefully ill-equipped to address the realities of poverty, mental health, and addiction that contribute to repeated arrests and crime rates. Therefore, focusing on one side of the coin distracts us from the totality of the issues at play.

In addition, calls for police to expand their role as enforcers of our nation’s flawed immigration policy would actually exacerbate these problems, rather than prevent or quell crimes faced by our communities. Many local law enforcement agencies oppose collaboration with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) because it creates fear and mistrust and prevents the kinds of community-based policing that works. Recent high-profile raids that break up families, leaving children without their parents, have already ratcheted up fear levels among immigrants. Furthermore, racial profiling and police discrimination have contributed to mistrust of police by immigrant communities and other people of color. Fear and mistrust of the police only serve to thwart criminal investigations. In fact, because of the laws our state has passed, immigrants have more and more reasons to avoid all police contact. The solution is not to deport drivers who lack legal status for minor traffic violations, but to create sensible immigration reform.

The federal government has repeatedly failed to pass fair and humane immigration legislation. Without the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, we are left with states, cities, and towns attempting to find ways to grapple with a broken immigration system. And when the state/local response is to target immigrant communities through legislation such as that passed in 2006, the undocumented population is then driven further into the shadows.

The American Friends Service Committee believes that both our immigration and our criminal justice systems must be reformed to recognize the root causes of migration and the root causes of violence. Exploiting this heartbreaking incident by shifting the spotlight from the loss of these three people’s lives to the brokenness of our current immigrant system is playing a cruel political game that will not heal our community or fix either the immigration or criminal justice systems. We need to not be distracted by divisive politics and focus instead on making all of our communities safer and healthier. Until we do that, attempts to pass the blame around will only end in more tragedies.

Jordan Garcia, Immigrant Ally Organizing Director
Gabriela Flora, Project Voice Regional Organizer
American Friends Service Committee

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker peace and justice organization and is a founding member of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
September 15, 2008