Pope Benedict XVI's calls for humane treatment of undocumented immigrants during his trip to the United States got anti-immigration zealots more riled up than usual. Good! I'm beginning to like this pope.
Soon after the pope called on Americans to fight "all forms of violence ... so that immigrants may lead dignified lives," and a White House statement suggested he brought up with President Bush the need to give immigrants and their children "humane treatment," some of America's most vocal opponents of immigration went ballistic.
CNN's anchor-procrastinator Lou Dobbs, the hero of most U.S. anti-immigration groups, shook his head with more than his usual dose of bitterness in his April 16 broadcast and charged that the pope was visiting Washington to "push the amnesty (for undocumented immigrants) agenda."
Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, until recently a Republican presidential hopeful who centered his campaign on cracking down on undocumented workers, said on his Web site that "the pope's immigration comments may have less to do with preaching the Gospel than they do about recruiting new members of the church. This isn't preaching, it is faith-based marketing."
Tancredo added, "I would like to know what part of our lax immigration policy is considered violent."
Well, since Tancredo asked, let's give him some examples:
It is violent to separate families by deporting parents arrested in work site raids and leaving their children, often U.S.-born toddlers, unprotected.
An October 2007 study by La Raza and The Urban Institute, titled "Paying the Price," says there are more than 3 million children who are U.S. citizens with undocumented parents. Thousands of children are being separated from their parents without warning, and millions more are at risk, the study says.
In addition to the psychological shock on children caused by their parents' unexplained disappearance, deportations are often leaving infants without supervision, food and shelter, it says.
It is violent for cities to allow local sheriffs to enforce federal immigration laws pretty much at their whim, or to pass city ordinances prohibiting landlords from renting out apartments to undocumented workers, which is resulting in automatic interrogations of anybody looking Hispanic.
It is violent for local authorities to tolerate vigilante groups that harass Hispanics under the assumption that they are not legally in the country, as is happening with growing regularity in Southern California, Texas and Arizona.
It is violent for politicians, cable television and radio commentators to systematically blame undocumented workers for America's economic and social ills. In addition to being wrong, it is creating a climate of hatred for the nation's 43 million Hispanics.
According to the recently released FBI Hate Crimes Statistics Report, hate crimes against Hispanics soared by 35 percent over the three years that ended in December 2006, to the point that Hispanics are making up 63 percent of all victims of ethnic-motivated crimes.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate groups around the country, says there are 888 hate groups in the United States, a 48 percent increase since 2000, not counting 300 anti-immigration groups that have been created in the past three years. Hate crimes against Hispanics "are typically carried out by people who think they are attacking immigrants," the SPLC study says.
My opinion: The pope is right. The estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the country not only deserve humane treatment, but many of them should have a chance to earn their legal residence if they perform jobs that Americans won't do, have paid taxes, and are prepared to learn English.
Granted, anti-immigration groups claim that they are not anti-immigration, but only against "illegal immigration." But that's a fallacy, because "legal immigration" has become impossible for a huge number of would-be immigrants under current laws.
The United States is giving far fewer entry visas than the number of unskilled workers its labor market is requiring. Most of those workers already here have no way to regularize their situation. Immigration laws have not kept pace with reality.
America needs less anti-immigrant hysteria, and a new effort to pass a comprehensive immigration law that grants more entry visas, provides a path to legalization for many of those already here, and improves controls at the border.
Just as important, it needs greater economic integration with Latin America, to help the region grow faster, and reduce its peoples' pressures to emigrate.
And, above all, we should remember that the people who are often stigmatized as "illegals" are human beings, and deserve to be treated as such.
Thanks for bringing it up, Benedict! Come back often!