The Immigration Debate Comes To My Hometown

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It is late June here and as is usual for this time of year in Brockport, a quiet, little Victorian village on the Erie Canal between Rochester and Buffalo in upstate NY, there is a pleasant laziness in the air. That happens when you lose somewhere between quarter and a third of your population as the college students leave for home. The worst you usually hear around now is a complaint about the mugginess, but we will live. It is a cozy place, with a cozy sense of self. People do not like change, as evidenced by its citizens fighting to keep their distinct, village government in the name of community identity a couple of years ago. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. It is also why it is no surprise when a big change is suggested, it stirs the hornet’s nest nicely.

Which is what is happening now with the suggestion that an abandoned Wal-Mart site be used to house underage, unaccompanied, undocumented immigrants. There was an immediate, outright knee jerk, opposition to it. After a few hours to mull it over some folks articulated their reasons. Some were legitimately concerned over the welfare of these kids. Conditions in many of these holding areas are positively disgusting and folks do not want that happening here. Some folks are, unsurprisingly in American politics, worried about their taxes. Some of it is simply NIMBYism.

Then, of course, you have the obvious ones. Mention that these are undocumented kids and the first reaction that comes to some folks is “send them back home.” I wonder what these folks think is happening. The entire point of this facility is to organize just that, but what do these men and women want? Do they propose putting these kids in cattle cars and just shipping them anywhere but here? Do they even want to know where these kids are going? Do they care? Are these kids anything but “illegals” to the xenophobes?

Unfortunately the answer is no. These children are faceless to them. No name, no life, no concern at all to those so very concerned about the immigration “problem.” Actually, these children are not faceless, they all have the same face, a brown one, which is something we are told is impolite to point out. Racists hate it when you point out their racism. Oh, and classism, let’s not mention that either.

Because those are both important points. Lost in all this talk of “illegals” is the fact that so many of these Immigrants of Color come from poor countries with little access to the institutions that might help them immigrate legally. Lost in all this talk is how it is so “obvious” to us that they need to follow procedure because we live in a community that requires us to be educated enough to know about these procedures, or at least know of their existence. Many people in the poorest countries, those countries supplying us this flow of undocumented children, do not have that advantage.

But no, let us not think about those complexities. If we do that we might have to deal with the fact that we benefit from a global system that exploits people in these places. We might have to face the consequences of our largess and privilege. Thinking about them more than is required to just ship them off would hurt too much, so just keep them out and keep them out of sight. After all, the are just deportees.

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