Monday, February 2, 2009

Immigrant Rights are Human Rights

The recent revelations about the apparent lack of interest on the part of law enforcement in Suffolk County with respect to assaults on Latino immigrants is an unfortunate illustration of what happens when our elected leaders fail to live up to their obligations to provide genuine leadership to the communities they serve. The contrast between Suffolk and neighboring Nassau Counties, both with large Latino immigrant populations (both documented and undocumented) demonstrates to all those with eyes to see, just how much influence government really has when it comes both to public attitudes toward immigrants and the protection of the constitutional rights of the people under their jurisdiction. In Nassau County, where Police Commissioner Mulvaney refused to participate in ICE raids and other government-sanctioned persecutions of immigrants and where County Executive Suozzi has tried to take a more realistic approach to the realities of immigration and migrant workers, hate crimes are vigorously investigated and incidents are fewer. In Suffolk, where County Executive Levy has spent much of his political career bashing immigrants and exploiting the fears of older residents, the county police have gotten the message, as have local young people, that the right to be protected from bodily harm is a privilege to be enjoyed only by those who have the proper ethnic background and the papers to prove it. Even as the continuing revelations come to light about the pervasiveness of hate crimes in Suffolk County, so too is the fact that the police have not only under-reported these crimes, they have consistently shown an attitude of indifference to victims and an unwillingness to go after perpetrators.

That's more than a tragedy, it is an anathema to people of faith and good conscience. Frankly, in a nation built by the labors of immigrants, a nation in which our founding documents posit "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as "unalienable rights" of all people and in which the Bill of Rights is specifically noted to apply to all people under our nation's jurisdiction this situation is an outrage against all of us as Americans. The enforcement of our nation's laws is the sworn responsibility of all elected officials and the moral responsibility of every American. When the police fail to protect our citizens, they have failed to serve their oath as law enforcement officers. When our elected officials pander to the fears and prejudices of those who would deny the same opportunities and protections to others that they themselves enjoy, whatever their status, they have failed their own oath and betrayed the public trust. And without presuming to speak for other faiths, when I and my colleagues, as Christian clergy, fail to speak out and to hold our congregations, our elected leaders and our government responsible for acting with integrity, wisdom and compassion toward all of those who share this island and this nation with us, whoever they might be or however they have arrived here, then we have betrayed our faith, our calling as clergy, and our God.
This is not about legal status. It is about our fellow human beings and they deserve better than they are getting. We need to stand up, speak out and work for justice for all human beings.