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Anti-Immigration Laws Designed to Induce Fear

A few southern and southwestern states – namely Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Utah – have recently enacted laws that require law enforcement officers to determine the citizenship status of any persons they suspect are undocumented immigrants, and that permit officers to detain those persons.
My sense is that these laws are not about “illegal residency.” America has always had and always tolerated undocumented residents, as do most countries.

Rather, I believe these laws are fear-induced attempts on the part of those who consider themselves “American-looking” to reduce their susceptibility to scarcity and discomfort during a period of escalating economic woe.

The scarcity of resources always betrays our true selves. Thus, the collective jeopardy of “immigrant-looking” persons makes others feel safe and less at risk.

Ultimately, these laws amount to a tightening of the boundaries of membership. Except in this case it concerns the membership of “Americans” rather than the membership of U.S. citizens.

The former is much narrower than the latter because it implies notions of pedigree.

Since America’s inception, the default for “American” has always been “white,” which disgracefully excludes America’s indigenous population. Numerous court cases have reinforced this notion.

Therefore the implication is that “Americans” look Anglo, despite the fact that generations of citizens never have.

So any suspicion about who looks like an undocumented immigrant necessarily begins with the question “Who looks like an immigrant?”

Accordingly, these new policies have been viewed as anti-immigrant and as sustaining white privilege. Here the privilege amounts to exemption from harassment and ignominy.

I would not be any less disappointed if the law required officers to determine the residency status of any person they suspected of peddling derivatives, engaging in predatory lending, lying about weapons of mass destruction, deregulating banks, running Ponzi schemes or destroying their employees’ 401K savings.

Such language is a proxy for race and therefore condones the profiling of a particular body type.

Ironically, if the burnished brass-colored Jesus (GEE-zuhs), who seemingly means so much to many of these politicians, chose to appear in Alabama today, he’d likely be detained and deported for having been confused with Jesus (HAY-zoose).

The idiocy of this law reveals the abysmal ignorance and fear of the legislators and some of the “American-looking” patriots who support them. They fear the very fate they seek to subject “immigrant-looking” persons to.

But here it is important to distinguish between government and society.

There are many “American-looking” residents in our society – squatters in Occupy encampments, among others – who also abhor such laws because they recognize a simple truth: the fate intended for the “immigrant-looking” is a fate that has already begun to devour them, too.

“Brown,” “black” and “white” alike are all being victimized by a corporate-political system “whose only fuel is greed, whose only god is profit.”

They realize their own safety cannot be measured by their proximity from the politically despised because it is only a matter of circumstance, not appearance or time, before the Gestapo arrives at their doors.

I write because I am “immigrant-looking” too, and I am concerned about the connotations we make with the bodies we inherited and our emotional response to them – as well as to those of others whose bodies differ from our own.

As a youngster, the psychological residue of de jure discrimination against non-white bodies burdened my burgeoning self-awareness with feelings of guilt and shame.

Guilt for stepping outside of my “proper” place by having the audacity to want all of the rights and privileges that other people received at birth: liberty; the right to marry anyone and live anywhere; the right to vote and to receive an education alongside the same children my mothers and grandmothers nursed and nannied for centuries.

Shame because of the texture of my hair, the shape of my features and the complexion of my skin, which meant I was subconsciously ashamed of others who looked like me.

The society suggested my body was unlovable and a symbol of sin/guilt, and that I was inherently separate from the norm and unacceptable.

It was intended that I believed this. To believe otherwise might have subverted the “natural” order of things.

I love this country and am disappointed to see it recycle divisive scripts from the past.

And while I do not oppose efforts to determine the residency status of persons within the United States, I oppose methods that lead to the potential harassment of all persons who fail to fit a certain body type.

The country cannot afford the costs (i.e., moral depravity) of this offense on top of the economic depression we’re currently experiencing. It couldn’t the first time around.

Each one of us is the most significant ingredient toward the evolution of America’s sense of identity and her ability to reimagine who she is.

And since America is no more merely soil than a church is merely a building, this evolution must begin within our individual consciousness.

JeffreyK. Pegram is a freelance writer, minister and faculty member at Hartwick College. He lives in Oneonta, N.Y.