By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
After 10 years of Congress stonewalling on the Dream Act, the president has now acted. For the students and families affected, the president’s new immigration policy directed at young undocumented students is akin to a modern-day version of an Emancipation Proclamation.
Of course it's a political move, just as everything the president does, and just as everything his opponents do, is political. But so too is dehumanization. Only when people are dehumanized can they be treated as less than human, as peoples less deserving of full human rights.
The death of Rodney King reminds us of this.
While seemingly unrelated, dehumanization is the common denominator. The lack of justice for King triggered an urban rebellion, unprecedented in U.S. history in its scope and rage. What could trigger such unadulterated violence?
The answer is very simple. King’s beating was not at all uncommon; people of color understand that violence. It is historic and it is systemic, and it has always been utilized as a means of control. That it was videotaped is what made it unique.
Such kind of violence can only be employed successfully if a people or population is considered less than human. In history, this was usually accomplished by use of religious or “God-mandated” ideas; i.e., Providence and Manifest Destiny. The Doctrine of Discovery served the same purpose. Since no human beings (read Christians) existed on this continent, Christians were free to violently take the land, etc.
Not being Christian was the same as not being human.
In examining history, can we actually say that these ideas have gone away?
In 1992, the King beating trial confirmed the common complaints of men of color, of always being beat down and always been treated as less than human sans justice.
Like many, I am no stranger to that reality. I lived through something similar in 1979 in East Los Angeles. What made my case unique is that despite being brutally beaten and falsely arrested, I actually won my trial, not once but twice.
What would permit officers to beat King, to regularly beat down men of color, as if indeed we were less than human? The answer: Dehumanization.
At the moment we're all digesting Pres. Obama's news. It appears that one of the ugliest chapters of modern human history is about to end. And yet those very familiar voices, those commonly heard on talk radio and increasingly in the halls of power, are shouting at the top of their lungs, accusing the president of committing treason. They are determined to not only derail the president and his plan, but also oppose anything that treats undocumented immigrants with dignity and respect and as full human beings.
Only when dehumanization becomes normalized can inhumane policies and decisions be justified. Those that are opposed to the president’s announcement long ago normalized the view that undocumented immigrants are either criminals or terrorists and certainly something less than human.
Their refrain of those familiar voices has always been: “what don't you understand about the word ‘illegal’.” Apparently, their own lack of humanity blinds them to this concept. Many of these young students, who will now be able to continue on with their studies and work in two-year increments, were brought to this country as infants or very small children. They know no country other than this one. But forget compassion; let's examine the law. To commit a crime, one needs to be conscious that one is committing a crime. A three-month old infant cannot legally commit a crime therefore, it is impossible for that child to ever be prosecuted or branded as a criminal.
In making his announcement, the president also made the mistake of saying that these young people came to this country through no fault of their own. Implicit is that it is the parents who are at fault. The moral lesson of history, is that parents attempting to better the lives of their children are not committing a crime, but rather, following the natural laws of survival.
Congress will again have the opportunity to treat both the students and their parents as full human beings by passing the Dream Act later this year. To do something less, is to abscond from their responsibility. It's actually time for Congress to resolve the nation’s immigration issues. But here's a hint; human beings, not walls or the military, have to be at the center of any proposed solution. Failure to do so will simply prolong the human crises.
Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, is the author of Justice a Question of Race and can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com.