November 8, 2009 will mark the one-year anniversary of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcello Lucero's brutal murder at the hands of seven high school teens in the infamously anti-immigrant Suffolk County, New York. Unfortunately, it took the death of one human being to raise awareness of the injustices occurring in Suffolk County and across the United States, which has always been a nation of immigrants. (Only the Native Americans can rightly claim to be pure natives of the United States.)
It has now been a little over 10 months since Lucero's death, and the plight of immigrants has already taken a back seat to discussions of health care and the economic downfall. While these issues are no doubt important, we cannot forget that immigration reform is equally necessary and important to moving the country forward on a humane and rational path.
We can no longer neglect the health and well-being of the large immigrant community in the U.S. Not raising awareness will leave many prey to the propaganda of the several anti-immigrant hate groups springing at alarming rates. These hate groups -- through their publications, meetings, and advertisements -- influence those with similar anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and racist inclinations, as well as those with little or no understanding of Latino and other non-Anglo cultures. As a result, these groups foster an environment of hate and fear.
The murderous Suffolk County teens were likely influenced by the plethora of anti-immigrant messages espoused on television and in person by their local politicians, pastors, fellow peers, parents, and teachers. What is more troubling, however, is that these "brainwashed" teens had engaged in physical and mental abuse of immigrants and non-immigrant Latinos before without any legal and parental repercussion. This is due in part to immigrants' fears of approaching law enforcement agencies. But according to a recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is because of the indifference -- and occasionally participation -- of the Suffolk County law enforcement agencies in these crimes. It is important to see the parallel to the same widespread police abuse of African Americans during most of the twentieth century. The abuse of African Americans did not cease with the waning of the Civil Rights Movement, just as the abuse of immigrants and non-Anglo groups presently continues unabated in several U.S. cities and towns.
Thankfully, the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the occurrences at Suffolk County. This will do little, however, to curb the injustices that immigrant and non-Anglo communities face throughout the country. The battle to halt these injustices begins by attacking the erroneous and irrational ideologies fueling them.
- First, we must realize that all humans, according to the most recent historical, archaeological, and paleoanthropological evidence, come from the wondrous African continent. Race, as the renowned anthropologist Ashley Montagu once exclaimed, is humanity's most dangerous myth.
- Second, we must note that the United States has always been an immigrant country.
- Third, we must recognize that all people (regardless of their origin) are equally intelligent and hard-working. Several scholars have easily dispelled the myth that Anglo populations are more intelligent than other groups.
- Fourth, we must work to expose and condemn any "-ism" wherever it rears its ugly head.
Apart from these, the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests the following concrete solutions:
- First, local politicians should halt their angry demagoguery on the issue of immigration.
- Second, the county and state legislatures should mandate that crime victims and witnesses not be asked their immigration status during criminal investigations.
- Third, law enforcement officials should train officers to ensure that they take seriously cases of hate-motivated crime.
- Fourth, the county should maintain accurate hate crime statistics that are readily available to the public.
- Fifth, the county should promote educational programs in the public schools to encourage respect for diversity and opposition to hatred.
Most importantly, however, is not forgetting that injustice exists all throughout this great but divided and wounded nation. It is up to us to progress to a more civil, humane, and sustainable society, where as Rev. Martin Luther King once dreamed that his children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
César J. Baldelomar is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. He is also the executive director of Pax Romana Center for International Study of Catholic Social Teaching. You can visit César at his Web site (www.cesarjb.org) and read his blogs at www.holisticthoughts.com.