Immigrants, Border Patrol Criminals and the Politics of Selective Humanity

December 1, 2007

Though this story I wrote for New America Media was a rush job and doesn’t have what I consider a very original or interesting title (I prefer the one I gave it above), there are some things in it that may be of interest. It’s about what I’m calling “the politics of selective humanity”: how some people are more human than others.

It’s partly inspired by the major increase in anti-immigrant violence, abuse, etc. documented by even the FBI in its crime stats, which lack any categories relating to migration status. Despite the exponential increase in anti-migrant incidents, Lou Dobbs and the anti-immigrant echo chamber never make any mention of what immigrants suffer. Instead, Dobbs creates martyrs and humanizes criminals like Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean who were convicted and jailed for shooting at a man 15 times and then trying to cover it up. Contrast what you see on Dobbs show about this case with what you read in this piece from Salon magazine.

In any case, here’s the piece:

Anti-Immigrant Rage Dehumanizes the Undocumented

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Nov 30, 2007

Editor’s Note: The CNN/You Tube Debate earlier this week showed what a hot-button topic that immigration was — with Republican candidates vying over who has the harshest measures concerning undocumented immigrants. But a closer look at the rising numbers of hate crimes reported against immigrants shows the deadly effects of anti-immigrant rhetoric, writes NAM contributor Roberto Lovato.

The focus of this week’s Republican debate on immigration makes one thing clear: We have entered the age of selective humanity. In other words, some humans are more human than others. Nowhere in the debate talk of “illegal aliens” and “sanctuary mansions” or who or what is “American” was there any notion that the undocumented were humans.

As a result, much of the “debate” around immigration has been and continues to be defined by the rage of the anti-immigrant right, a right that champions and humanizes those that shoot and jail migrants instead of focusing on the migrants themselves – who are stripped of anything beyond the parasitic, criminal image that makes for “fiery” television head-butting. Such a climate does not look at the violence and abuse suffered by migrants. It does not ascribe humanity to them.

The media of just one week yields many examples of how undocumented immigrants suffer through things that no politician or pundit is talking about. For example, the Arizona Republic reported this week about a dramatic rise in the number of undocumented who are kidnapped at gunpoint, held for ransom, tortured and even killed; an analysis of the FBI hate crime statistics by the Southern Poverty Law Center found an estimated 35 percent increase in hate crimes against those perceived to be undocumented including cases like that of a Cuban man killed at an improvised roadblock and that of man sodomized with a patio umbrella pole; in Greensboro, Ga., last week, Police Officer Brent Gulley was caught stealing cash from Latinos pulled over for numerous alleged offenses while in Tucson another undocumented man was shot by authorities under questionable circumstances; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Broward county is investigating an immigration agent who was transporting a 39-year-old mother for deportation to Jamaica and allegedly raped her in his home in what authorities say is the second such incident in the past month.

And to no one’s surprise, Lou Dobbs and the anti-migrant echo chamber exercised their right to selective humanity and regularly and completely ignore these stories and, instead, focus on faux-hero stories like that of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. Ramos and Compean became a cause celebre of the anti-immigrant set after being convicted for firing 15 bullets at a suspected drug dealer and then trying to cover up the evidence. Those who watch Dobbs’ show are saturated with weekly reports about the families of Ramos and Compean and other humanizing stories. These same viewers – and most Americans – haven’t an inkling of the deepening abyss of violence and hate aimed at immigrants.

It’s no coincidence that such incidents come in a climate of increasing racial and economic tension as seen, for example, in the current rise in hate crimes. Sadly, crimes against immigrants go largely unreported not only because of the fear in the immigrant community. As the former president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, I learned that migration status is not included as a category in most hate crime data-gathering and statistics. So, while the FBI report is helpful, it likely captures little of the official and un-official crimes against those vilified daily on CNN news and debates and in state legislatures.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the politics of selective humanity around immigration started back in the 90s, when the contemporary politics of immigration were first shaped in California. At that time, many Democrats and their allies pointed to polls showing that “moral arguments around immigration don’t work with the voters.” In other words, pollsters were telling them that humanity and humanizing the issue wouldn’t win elections against the immigration wedge-deploying Republicans.

Today, we’ve reached a point in which, not only are “moral” or “humane” immigration policies taboo, but one in which even Democrats like Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) are co-sponsoring punitive, enforcement only policies like the SAVE Act (Secure America through Verification Enforcement). Some of the same Democratic politicos, pollsters and strategists who told us that “moral arguments around immigration don’t work with the voters” are economically richer and more politically powerful. Until both parties recognize the humanity of immigrants, the barrage of horrific stories about crimes directed at this population will continue.

2 Responses to “Immigrants, Border Patrol Criminals and the Politics of Selective Humanity”


  1. Heath Shuler is right. Illegal immigration hurts American workers especially those in the low paying jobs. Many of the American workers harmed by illegal immigration are African American or Latino so your arguments about human rights being deprived really lack validity. It isn’t “dehaumanizing” illegal immigrants to enforce the law. Let them take a number and wait in line like everyone else who wants to immigrate to the USA.


  2. […] of these victims, this report sends an unmistakable signal to the immigrant rights community: the dehumanization of immigrants has reached deadly institutional levels. Such high levels of death among detained migrants prove […]


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