How to “Humanize” Immigration Raids Without Humanzing Immigrants

November 26, 2007


This story in the L.A. Times reports on recently-announced Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (ICE) guidelines designed to “humanize immigration raids”.

While the announcement may mean some needed respite for that minority of immigrants arrested in work-site raids who are “pregnant, nursing infants or serving as sole caregivers to children or seriously ill relatives”, it does nothing for those millions that aren’t in any of these situations.

And what about the trauma immigrants experience due to beatings, gun-wielding and very violent raids, rapes in detention and even shootings perpetrated by ICE agents? Guidelines to “humanize” these ICE actions will, in all likelihood, not be forthcoming. This is, in large part, because, in order to execute such violent actions, ICE agents must learn to fundamentally dehumanize their fellow humans who happen to be migrants. Since 9-11, ICE agent boot camp has morphed into: distinguishing the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” the non-people requiring the state (and sometimes general populace)-sanctioned solution of violence. Just look at ICE’s website, a virtual immigrant rogues gallery for the 21rst century wild west. No human immigrants here.

It’s harder to beat, rape or otherwise traumatize and hurt someone if you see them as a member of your race, the human race. That’s why men (and women) with guns during the genocide era in Rwanda needed radio shock jocks there to fill the airwaves with descriptions of their perceived adversaries as “cockroaches”. Dehumanization is also why, in the U.S., mainstreamed hate radio jocks like the “Jersey Guys” provide airwave support the violent actions of ICE -the most militarized branch of government besides the Pentagon-with calls to denounce and capture immigrants in “Operation Rat a Rat/La Cucha Gotcha”.

Whether public or private, media can and does often enable violence – and legitimate the violent.

Just note, for example, what is being “humanized” in the title of the LA Times piece: “Guidelines to humanize immigration raids”. “Immigration raids”-not immigrants- are being humanized. And as you continue reading, you might note who Teresa Watanabe, the author, ascribes humanity and agency to with quotes like these,

“…. the agency’s Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers this month issued a memo directing agents to consider releasing nursing mothers on their own recognizance and using alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring, as long as they pose no threat to national security or public safety. The memo said the agency’s commitment to ending the “catch and release” practice, in which illegal immigrants are released soon after apprehension, did not diminish its responsibility to recognize “meritorious” humanitarian cases, Kice said.

“ICE is committed to enforcing the law, but we’re also committed to addressing humanitarian concerns,” Kice said.

Note also how Watanabe (or maybe her editor) neglects to ask why ICE and its director Julie Myers’ holiday announcement of “humanitarian” good cheer comes at this precise moment? The article does mention how some ICE actions like the New Bedsford, Mass raid have drawn considerable fire. But might the ICE announcement also have something to do with how Myers’ humanity recently made headlines after she gave a Halloween costume award to and took a picture standing next to a white man whose costume consisted of dreadlocks, a prisoner’s outfit and black face?

Given the continued and devastating violence of ICE, given the degraded state of immigrant humanity in the public sphere, the announcement of the guidelines to “humanize” the raids is nothing more than political minstrelsy designed to put a friendlier face on an agency that’s made a multi-billion industry out of dehumanizing immigrants.

If they really wanted to a “humanize” something, they’d not just stop the raids, but shut down this increasingly violent and constitutionally racist agency down altogether.

The announcement should also be seen as a small and, perhaps even, Pyrrhic victory for immigrants rights activists. To their credit, activists have more frequently and aggressively attacked ICE for its inhumanity and violence. Such activism is urgently needed to make up for the strategic catastrophe led by DC-based groups who told many of us in media teleconferences that “moral arguments (around immigration) don’t work with the voters.”

At this point in the immigration game, concern of and about politicos and voters who can lose their humanity in the urgency and anonymity of polls and voting booths can wait. Things have degenerated to dangerous levels. Before anything, we need to get back to a fundamental concern a for humans.

2 Responses to “How to “Humanize” Immigration Raids Without Humanzing Immigrants”

  1. […] than simply allow ICE to continue its big money PR campaigns to “humanize” its image, some might also consider the tactic of starting the ball rolling by temporarily closing ICE offices […]

  2. […] and of imprisoning immigrants more “thoughtfully and humanely” are reminiscent of similar talk by the Bush Administration. After civil and human rights groups criticized the Bush Administration for the the terror fostered […]

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