The accelerated deportation of illegal immigrants is brainless, cruel, antagonizing to many allies and neighbors and, ultimately, banal. It is antithetical to our better natures and to the humane face of America that has made us an exemplar for human rights, a voice for the voiceless and, as Ronald Reagan said, “a shining city on a hill.”
It is American exceptionalism abandoned for petty prejudice.
There is linkage -- there always is linkage -- between the desecration of the Jewish Chesed Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo., and those knocks on the door as the men from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) perpetrate the obscenity, ordered up by those in authority. Prejudice has been affirmed by government.
No country in this disturbed world can allow unfettered immigration, but to turn on those who have crossed the border for the simplest human reason -- need -- with the full force of the state and to send them to a place where they fled for a better life, for a dream -- the American Dream -- is to implement a crime against humanity.
Hate is easily inflamed. The darkest passion of human beings is to love to hate, to blame all of life’s ills on others and to seek to punish them for just being. It is what produced the sectarian violence in Ireland, perpetuated apartheid in South Africa, and caused the great horrors of the last century, including the Armenian massacre in Turkey and the Holocaust. Not only do people love to hate but hate becomes hereditary, handed down through the generations.
The United States has struggled against its incipient hates and even appeared, with the election of Barack Obama, to be able to put them aside. But we have come through a political season where hate has been dog whistled and it has come running.
If you think what you have just read is far-fetched, let me tell you that every time I write about immigration and the plight of the dispossessed, I am deluged with virulent, hate-filled emails. Once this evil genie is loose, no prejudice is out of possibility.
All my e-mails repeat this political phrase out of last year’s campaign, “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” How many things that were illegal in my lifetime are now legal? Try segregated lunch counters and homosexuality, for starters. The goal posts move.
You can build a single act of illegality -- in this case crossing a border to get a better life -- into a crime of giant proportions without statute of limitations: a mark of Cain, an indelible stain. But it is not. The hard-pressed father and mother, breaking the law by working without papers, and yet holding it all together so that the children might have it easier, is the face of these criminals. Lives in extremis.
Study after study has shown that they are less likely to commit violent crimes or to disturb the peace than Americans whose ancestors arrived on these shores as immigrants in another time.
To break up families, to send people to countries where they are de facto foreigners with no means of supporting themselves and where they will encounter hostility and danger, in the name of legality, is preposterous. It is something that will pass into history as a time when our country – America the Great – did something totally unworthy of its better nature.
When the state moves people by the millions for its own purposes, terrible injustice and human suffering result.
We did that: We have the mark of slavery in our DNA. In small measure we expiated that, until this dark time. Shame!
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS and a frequent contributor to New England Diary. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.