Immigration Raid Discourse Requires Moral Intuition
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have been arresting undocumented immigrants across the country for the past week, targeting those with and without criminal records. These raids mark a policy shift from former President Barack Obama’s executive orders that worked to ensure that law-abiding immigrants without proper documentation would be able to remain in the United States. While Obama’s deportation of millions of people earned him the nickname “Deporter in Chief,” President Donald Trump has set an even more dangerous tone as he blames immigrants for the country’s economic and social problems.
There are logical reasons to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. Immigrants support the economy by working, purchasing goods and services and paying taxes. In 2013, immigrants added $1.6 trillion to the United States’ GDP. Immigrants make up 33 percent of the country’s engineers and 24 percent of its physical scientists. Raids hamper productivity by creating fear in immigrant communities, forcing workers and shoppers to stay home. Under Trump, immigrants are at risk of being approached and potentially detained whether they are leaving church shelters or filing domestic abuse charges in court, for example, creating even more distrust between marginalized groups and law enforcement.
These are the logical reasons why the government should cease immigration raids. But logic and reason can be muddled and should not serve as the backbone for arguments in the age of Trump. Facts are ephemeral in a world where our own president unabashedly lies about things as trivial as crowd size.
Our problems are exacerbated by our culture that venerates facts and knowledge; we always point to statistics first. For instance, it is true that approximately 73 percent of the 680 illegal immigrants arrested last week had criminal records. Blindly citing that figure, however, ignores the fact that 90 percent of those arrested under Obama had these records. Even more importantly, it dehumanizes 184 law-abiding people. It turns them into a “mere” 27 percent. It turns them into statistics, into conceptualizations of people that can then be used to prove a point.
A logical, statistical approach provides plenty of reasons why immigration raids are wrong, but it also distances us from them. Instead of jumping to reason first, therefore, we should start with intuition.
Intuition holds a significant reservoir of advantages. It’s clear, easy and direct. It is morally guided and emotionally honed. The first thing that intuition asks when presented with these deportations is: Is it acceptable to turn away people merely seeking better lives for themselves and their families? Is it okay to ruthlessly tear families apart?
We should compassionately ask people how they would feel if their partners, children and parents were torn away from them. Ask how they would feel if they were Guadalupe García de Rayos, the subject of a recent New York Times profile who was ripped from her daughter and son after living in the U.S. since she was 14 (“She Showed Up Yearly to Meet Immigration Agents. Now They’ve Deported Her,” Feb. 8, 2017). Ask how they would feel sitting in the back of the ICE van as family, relatives and friends attempted to block its exit. And ask how they would feel after those protesters were cleared away, and they are left with the knowledge that they may never see their children again.
Or you could ask them to imagine that they were the daughter witnessing the traumatic arrest of her single mother. Ask how they would feel if they were the ones saying, “No one should be packing their mother’s suitcase.”
We should also be careful to understand that these cases are not unique. Every day, families are tragically being torn apart. Just this Wednesday, for example, Sara Beltran-Hernandez, a 26-year-old mother of two, was detained by ICE agents while she awaited treatment for a brain tumor, as reported by the New York Daily News. She was bound by her wrists and ankles, even while her nose started to bleed and she told ICE agents that her head felt like it was exploding, according to her family. Animals should not be treated that way, let alone human beings.
The immigration issue isn’t about numbers, percentages or data. It’s about our collective conscious as a human race. It’s about understanding that violence and hatred aren’t ingrained in our nature. And it’s about having the courage to transcend those forces and embrace a human spirit of compassion and tolerance that is our species’ greatest gift. Only in acknowledging and loving another’s humanity will ours ever be truly complete.