Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Friday, June 01, 2007

"Then they came for me": Korean student detained for not finding her papers

From dailykos, a chilling story about a UC Santa Barbara college student from Korea who was dragged away by immigration agents at 5:30 am in the morning when she could not locate her documents. The crazy thing is she wasn't even the original target of their search:

The purpose of the pre-dawn raid (already one starts to wonder why they're using that tactic) was a graduate student from Iran. The ICE agents "suspected irregularities" in her paperwork, although one wonders where they got that suspicion. That student was able to produce the documentation. However, agents then asked "anyone else here an immigrant?" When a roommate, an undergraduate originally from South Korea, volunteered - hoping to be cooperative and useful - she was told to find her documentation. At 5:30 in the morning she wasn't immediately able to. So she was arrested and taken to a "detention facility" over in Ventura.

This sets a dangerous, dangerous precedent. For so long, Asian Americans' nationalities have been in question and our loyalties as well. We have been the conveniently "mysterious, shifty and inscrutable Oriental faces" who cannot be read by [white]America. Frank Wu does an excellent job of detailing this history of discrimination in Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.

I don't have the book at hand, but one of the most poignant parts is when he writes that people with a face like his are immediately suspect and subject to questions of "Where are you from? where are you really from?" Suspect as aliens, as though they could never possibly be American.
We are facing a major crisis in this country where if you look yellow or brown you anyone who looks like an immigrant can be taken and detained, and possibly deported. Granted, she should not have volunteered that she too was an immigrant, but it was an innocent mistake - the type of mistake so many families made during special registration.

It was the mistake of wanting to comply and be helpful to law enforcement that separated thousands of families. Do we as Americans want to see a country where immigrants are afraid of helping law enforcement officials? It is counterproductive to finding real criminals and instead denies people basic civil rights and liberties, eroding the trust in community policing and faith in law enforcement that all US residents should be able to have. But I would argue that sadly, this fear is already present in too many immigrant communities.

One of the provisions written after 9/11 allows immigration agents to seize and detain anyone within 100 miles of the US-Mexico border if they have cause to believe that they are an undocumented immigrant. This seizure by the ICE is a physical extension of that, and cases like this go on every day. The New Bedford raids, poultry plant raids, sweatshop raids. Most of us who are graced with US citizenship don't have to think about these things, which is the definition of privilege. But how long before these rights are forgotten, dropped by the wayside?

What if some citizen decided to say that they, too, were immigrants, out of solidarity or friendship or carelessness? Would they also get dragged off to a detention center without due process? They wouldn't have documentation on them to prove citizenship status. This is something that we always think about when planning actions - who can get arrested. Who has the privilege of being able to be arrested without more than a slap on the wrist, a fine? It's not the people who have CORIs, and it's not those who aren't full-fledged citizens.

What if the ICE decided to start raiding high schools, colleges, institutions that are populated by the middle class as opposed to just places of employment where low wage workers frequently get exploited? Who would get caught up in that wide, wide net? More importantly, would more Asian Americans care?

Though I hesitate to quote Martin Neimoller because it gets said so much, I believe it is highly applicable here.
First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left
to speak up for me.
How much more of this can we take? How much more will we take?

Just because we are the "model minority" won't stop our families from being separated. Just because we win the spelling bee doesn't mean our hearts won't be broken. The only things that will create change are education and collective action.

If nothing else in recent history helped to make the point that it isn't only Latinos who should care and be viscerally concerned about immigration, special registration did, at least for desis and Filipinos, and people from the 21 countries that were put on notice, as Colbert would say. Just like with Seung Cho, we let out a collective sigh of relief when it turns out we weren't the targeted group. But sometimes we forget because it is so easy to get swept up in gossip over Brangelina, to worry about our 401ks or to plan our next vacation. Because it is easy to close our eyes and pretend like our country's most basic values aren't being torn apart, shredded on the altar of a conservative, fear-mongering agenda. And I won't stand for it.

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