As I was driving back to my office from court the other day, a radio talk show host began to talk about immigration reform.
From the outset, his tone was hostile. His comments were rude and degrading.
Deep inside, I felt sad. Immigration reform is a tough enough issue already. The radio host’s attempt to induce a sense of cultural superiority was misplaced.
Xenophobia is not a sentiment worth embracing.
I could have easily slipped into feeling insulted and, worse, anger at the talk show host. His broad-based remarks were, in essence, demeaning my father, a first generation immigrant, and all others not born here — including his own ancestors.
He caused me to reflect on the earlier events of the day.
At the hearing, opposing counsel had made comments, though carefully couched, whose meaning was equally insulting about my client’s impoverished roots, limited education, and lack of sophistication.
Such behavior, even in our courts of law, is not uncommon.
Almost from the moment I became a San Diego immigration lawyer, I’ve heard similar remarks from all sorts of people. I’ve never fully understood the roots of such superiority.
In my view, unfamiliarity is a big part of the problem.
With radio show hosts, politicians, news reporters, and countless other public figures spewing out misguided commentary about foreigners, how can the public distinguish truth from fiction?
Being an immigration insider, I know many, many immigrants enter this country out of desperation. They violate our laws in the process. A higher urgency, like duty to family, often propels them forward.
Several people call them “illegals.”
Although I did not major in English, I know the word illegal is not a noun.
There are no illegal human beings. A child born out of wedlock is not illegal. A person sentenced to jail for robbery is not illegal.
The act of entering our country without permission is illegal.
Not the person.
We’re all children of God, despite our varying visions of the unknown and omniscient, and despite our different cultural and racial roots.
By now, I should be immune to negative sentiments espoused by a radio talk show host or an opposing attorney.
After fighting to defend immigrants from countries around the world for over two decades, one would probably assume my skin has grown thicker.
My feelings force me to think twice about how to respond during such moments.
After all, my parents did not teach me to hate. They taught me to love. They taught me to love all people, no matter how different we may be.
They understood love, not hate, is the answer to unjustified attacks on an individual’s character, worth, and dignity.
I know if my father could hear my internal rumblings, he would advise me to turn the other cheek and to let go of my negative feelings. He would tell me it takes a bigger person to walk away from hate than to respond in kind.
My mother would put it more bluntly. Sticks and stones may break your bones, she would tell me, but words never will.
For as Eleanor Roosevelt once noted:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”