Roots in Fear
Bethany Christian Schools, Goshen, Indiana
A surge of warmth and the smell of maize and salty fried pork fat envelopes me as I enter through front door of San Marcos Restaurant off Main Street in downtown Goshen. La mesera welcomes me with smiles and motions for me to sit wherever suits. A man with sun leathered skin and a cowboy hat talks softly to the abuelita behind the kitchen counter, but tips his hat slightly as I walk past. My sope soon arrives, the thick corn tortilla’s greased crust serves as plate for the pollo oozing marinade, green avocado, queso fresco, cilantro salsa and that spicy sauce I never know how to pronounce. “¿Estas Bien?” The abuelita calls as she wipes down the counter that previously held my dinner. Mouth too full to respond, I nod and smile vigorously in return.
San Marcos embraces my obviously Anglo appearance, limited Spanish and growling stomach on a weekly basis despite the fact that many of similar appearance would reject this restaurant’s culture as “alien.” This tension within our small community of Goshen, Indiana is directly related to the United State’s hostility towards foreign cultures.
The root cause of conflicts over immigration is racism. However, racism in the Twenty-first Century is veiled by hostile immigration laws and false allegations such as “taking American jobs” and deteriorating America’s economy. This racism stems from fear of change and fear of the unknown. Dehumanization, disrespect and ignorance is systematically evident in American culture in result of this fear.
Susana Cabezas speaks softly. She leans her head back against the wooden rest of her rocking chair, still in her hospital scrubs. The walls of the Cabezas’ living room are painted a warm yellow, and her smile emulates similar warmth. A single long braid travels down the length of her torso, hair flecked with sandy grey. Her posture, air and presence reflect that of a woman of experience and a rare kindness.
Cabezas was born in Costa Rica to an American Mennonite mother and a Costa Rican father. Through scholarship grants from Goshen College, a small-town Mennonite college in northern Indiana, her son and daughter were able to have a college education in the United States. Due to her mother’s citizenship status, Cabezas automatically had a United States citizenship but didn’t use that privilege until four years ago when her children began to settle down and start families in the Goshen area. Cabezas moved to downtown Goshen and began working as an interpreter for Goshen Health Systems. Cabezas’ daughter has spent the last eleven years attempting to gain citizenship. However, the family’s response was not anger or frustration, but fear. “We don’t feel safe. We have noticed that people who look foreign; if you have darker skin, if you look latino there is more of a tendency to be stopped by police.” Cabezas’ daughter cannot work, leave the country or be charged with anything, as trivial as a speeding ticket, otherwise her process is canceled. When the Cabezas family travels by air, they are consistently stopped and searched during “routine” security checks. “My kids, all of them, at least twice [have been] sent in to a room, searched and left alone–they’re teenagers–for hours, questioning them,” said Cabezas. “Will I be leaving with them? …That is really scary,”
Costa Rica is only one of two countries worldwide that has no military. This and their universal health care system is a source of national pride, according to Cabezas. Patriotism carries over to everything, from elections to water conservation and immigration. “About 40% of the population now is Nicaraguan,” Cabezas said. “Everybody is like ‘If somebody is killed, oh its a Nicaraguan. Something is stolen, oh its a Nicaraguan.’ That’s not true, that’s not true,” Cabezas said. “They just don’t have jobs [there]. Now its my turn to come here and see how other people see us,” Cabezas nodded and smiled, “It’s been… different.”
Yvonne Graber’s boisterous laugh and bubbling personality can fill an empty room. Her infectious baby talk can soften the hardest hearts. She works long, difficult and often odd hours as a trauma nurse in Phoenix, Arizona. Her husband, children and she dote over Omi, Graber’s mother, a single woman overflowing with generosity.
Graber was born in Landau, Germany and raised in Karlsruhe, a small town of 10,000 residents that nearly touches the French border. At the ripe age of nine, after a visit to America on holiday, Omi met an American man whom she then married. Graber and her mother moved to the United States. “We spoke no English, he spoke no German.” Graber reflected. The German universal health care system required no medical or dental checkups. When Yvonne arrived she had twelve cavities. Her permanent resident alien status did not change much about prejudices. Her first high school relationship was cut short after his parents discovered she was German. From time to time Graber was assumed to be a Nazi, or at least of Nazi decent, accused of trying to exterminate family members of locals. Twenty-six years after she first moved to the United States, Graber gained her American citizenship. Graber says the ordeal cost her $600.
As a citizen of Arizona, immigration is relevant in most aspects of daily life. “…We are all about immigration. Heck we have Sheriff Joe Arpio!” Graber teased. “When I first started working in the hospital 8 years ago we had many patients that were illegal,” stated Graber. These patients “do not pay for their healthcare… [This] drives up healthcare costs and makes it difficult for the Hospital to stay in business.” Graber said that because of Arizona’s stricter laws, there are less illegal patients in her hospital. “It is very unfortunate that we are America, home to everyone, but we can’t make the process easier for them to become citizens. Many live in fear.”
On April 10, 2010, Arizona legislature passed SB 1070; a set of laws known as America’s toughest “anti-immigration” law (New York Times). In June of 2012, the Supreme Court struck down three provisions of the law that were ruled unconstitutional. However, the most controversial part of the law, which required that “state law enforcement officials determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if the officials have reason to believe that the individual might be an illegal immigrant,” remained intact (New York Times). The law is often thought of as “racial profiling” (MennoMedia).
America’s immigrant beginning has often been ignored during dialogue on this issue. Bill O’Reilly, a host on Fox News, endorsed comedian Dennis Miller’s statement that “traditional America is vaporizing,” only to add that it “can be restored.” However, O’Reilly suggested that demographic trends indicate that “traditional Americans” are primarily the “white males” who voted Republican this election cycle. This generalization of individuals, harsh partisanship as well as discrimination of minority groups is not a new aspect of our culture. In the nineteenth century, America experienced a surge of immigrants from Ireland. These immigrants were labeled as “lazy and disorganized,” and were often blamed for the high crime rates in New York and other cities. They were appointed to labor oriented jobs because “Irish bodies were naturally different from ‘American’ ones in a way that made carrying hods and swinging pickaxes painless for them (Pomeranz).”
Despite many American’s unease, Mennonite Church USA welcomes immigrants into communities. The statement currently reads, “We reject our country’s mistreatment of immigrants, repent of our silence, and commit ourselves to act with and on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, regardless of their legal status.” The church’s action affirms its roots in non-violence and loving ideals. The church’s statement then goes on to promise “building relationships with newcomers,” “sharing stories,” “joining national immigration rights organizations,” as well as “advocating for just and humane policies.” The National Association of Evangelicals, also endorsed by the Brethren in Christ Church, encourages discussion of immigration and the bible, specifically Romans 13, encouraging Christians to “demonstrate biblical grace to the foreigner (MennoMedia).”
The current government is also making some promising headway through its domestic policies concerning immigration. President Obama’s initiative, called the DREAM Act, would provide eligibility for 1.8 million immigrants under the age of 31 for “deferred action” for two years of a renewable reprieve (“Who and Where the DREAMers are, Revised Estimates”). Those eligible must be currently in school or have graduated, served in the military or have not been convicted of a felony. The DREAM Act, though it may not be an all-encompassing immigration reform policy, it is still a step in a positive direction. However, those opposed to the initiative announced on July 15th, specifically those affiliated with the Tea Party and the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, say it’s a form of “amnesty.” These opponents are also predicting an impact on taxpayers as those eligible “flock to public colleges at in-state rates (Chapman).”
Immigration reform needs to be the utmost priority of the national government. Systematic discrimination and racial profiling in state policy is utterly unacceptable in the 21st century. As of 2009 there are 11.1 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States (Bahrampour). These immigrants are accused of job stealing and the cause of the high unemployment rate, all of which allegations are false. “More people, including more foreigners, do not mean lower wages or higher unemployment. If they did, every time a baby was born or a new graduate entered the workforce, they would hurt existing workers. New workers affect demand, not just supply. New workers also consume goods and services, creating more jobs,” said Rob Parel and Associates for the Immigration Policy Center. In 2010 alone, the U.S. deported a record of 392,862 immigrants (MennoMedia).
Uprooting individuals from their families and communities in the form of deportation is not the answer to America’s immigration problem. Illegal immigrants should be granted amnesty and be required to pay a fine for breaking American law. Families moving to the United States should apply for visas and then be granted citizenship, on application, after five years of residency. This process should require both an English exam as well as a clean criminal record. Resources for communities and individuals should be readily available to help form relationships. The U.S-Mexico border should provide a safety barrier for drugs, extremists and criminals rather than a policing policy for Mexican citizens. This significant tragedy, the continual percussions of racism, requires dramatic changes in policy and culture.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward (Brown).” Martin Luther King Junior’s words of encouragement continue to resonate with current struggles. The root cause of tension surrounding immigration is racism. By building relationships with our neighbors and through fair policies, the nation can take the necessary steps in moving towards a more peaceful and prosperous society and government. As President Obama said to an eager crowd at American University, “Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth. It’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of fidelity to the shared values that we all hold so dear. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes us strong. Anybody can help us write the next great chapter in our history.”
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Brown, Joshua M. 17 January 2011. “Beyond ‘I have a dream,’ three favorite Martin Luther King quotes.” The Christian Science Monitor. Web. 2 December 2012.
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Steve Chapman. 22 April 2012. “Killing the Dream: Why spurn young immigrants who have done no wrong?” The Chicago Tribune. Web. 26 November 2012.