I write this viewpoint in an attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions surrounding immigration in the United States. As U.S. citizens, we feel a sense of entitlement to anything and everything between the borders that by chance we were born within. When an outsider enters these borders, we become protective of “our” land, not wanting those who don’t belong to take from us. This defensive ideology, at times necessary for our country’s success, has morphed into a popular, yet irrational, stance on immigration.

Illustration by Rose Jaffe

In a recent letter to the editor about this issue (A2 needs more, not less, immigration enforcement, 09/11/2008), the letter writer argued that, instead of becoming a sanctuary city, Ann Arbor should increase its arrests of undocumented immigrants because they are using up resources and are a danger to society. This letter epitomized the unsubstantiated and illogical view many people have about immigrants’ effect on society. I would like to explain how the immigrant population in Ann Arbor and the country is neither soaking up our resources nor endangering our neighborhoods.

The major claim against undocumented immigrants in the letter was that undocumented immigrants are “reaping the benefits of American citizenship without assuming any of the responsibilities.” Undocumented immigrants, however, receive far fewer benefits from our society than most think, while assuming almost equal responsibility. Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes, property taxes and payroll taxes without receiving the majority of social services. They do not have access to food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid- or Medicare-funded hospitalization. They do not get the benefit of fair working conditions and a minimum wage.

Undocumented immigrants even contribute to Social Security without claiming benefits. In 2006 alone, the Social Security Administration collected an estimated $6-7 billion from contributions connected to invalid names. These invalid names are usually from undocumented immigrants, who get employed with false identification and get taxes taken out of their paychecks under those false names.

Though the letter writer claimed that “unchecked illegal immigration taxes all of us unfairly,” I ask you, exactly what is unfair about this situation?

The other accusation against undocumented immigrants is that their presence “dramatically increases crime rates.” This claim is unsupported by facts or rationality. Since undocumented immigrants are “illegal,” they are at constant risk of deportation. To avoid deportation, these people generally try to avoid police. Since committing a crime puts you at greater chance of encountering the police, undocumented immigrants tend not to commit crimes. If you look at data from the National Crime Victimization Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics you can see that during the period from 1994 to 2005, when some estimate the undocumented immigrant population to have doubled, the violent crime rate declined by 41.2 percent.

The undocumented immigrant population is not harmful to our society, yet we continue to harm them. In the past seven months, Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Washtenaw County has dramatically increased raids into immigrants’ homes, deporting hard-working men and women, breaking apart families and using questionably violent means to do so. In his letter to the editor, the writer argued that the Daily, in its recent editorial (Sanctuary for all, 09/08/2008) did not have enough facts to claim that ICE was being inhumane. I offer you some now.

According to a report from the Spanish-language network Univision, ICE officials entered a house in Ypsilanti in mid-March, breaking through a bedroom door where a mother was dressing her daughter after a bath. The family claimed that the officials took the family into the living room and began to yell and beat the father and grandfather in front of the wife and two young children, the daughter still naked under her towel. When the officials finally left with the two men, blood stained the floor of the house — blood the camera panned over in the news report.

I think those bloodstains stand as evidence that the brutality had gone too far, but if you are unconvinced, you should ask the daughter what happened to her father that night. She might respond to you as she did to me, “He is dead. They took him and killed him.”

I think this captures how psychologically damaging these raids have been. Her father did not die, but because of what she saw, the daughter could not be convinced otherwise.

These inhumane practices by ICE will continue and our society will allow them to unless, as conscious citizens, we can recognize the irrationality of our stance on immigration. Or, at least, we must recognize that no one, citizen or not, deserves to be beaten and humiliated by law enforcement for wanting to live within borders that by chance that person wasn’t born into.

Tiernan Seaver is an LSA junior and a member of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

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