A week after a white supremacist attacked the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and on the day that three teenagers are being sentenced in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, for brutally beating and killing a Mexican immigrant, it's time we confront the fact that behind violently anti-immigrant and supremacist rhetoric is a real urge and a real encouragement for actual violence.
On May 30, 2009, a group of armed men and women killed 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father in Arivaca, AZ. The vigilantes were Minutemen, members of a "civilian defense corps" that polices the US-Mexico border for undocumented immigrants. When Jason Bush, 34, Shawna Forde, 41, and Albert Gaxiola, 42, allegedly busted down the front door of the Flores home and murdered Raul Junior Flores and his daughter and seriously injured Flores' wife, the armed gang was supposedly looking for drugs and cash to fund their anti-immigrant organization.
Arizona police allege Shawna Forde was the ringleader. Shawna Forde was the Executive Director of Minuteman American Defense (M.A.D.) and a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), often touted as a "mainstream" voice opposing immigration. But if Forde was indeed involved, the bloody acts in Arivaca reveal the true hatred and contempt behind anti-immigrant organizations in our country. Many well-meaning, average Americans who have understandable concerns about our economy and how they're going to support their families have been convinced that anti-immigrant organizations are on their side and feel their pain. But the reality is, organizations like the Minutemen and FAIR are only co-opting our economic insecurity (an insecurity that's actually shared by immigrants and citizens alike) to mask their real agenda, motivated purely by hatred for those who are different.
It was the same thing in Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler started by talking about how Jews were threatening the German economy and should all be expelled from the country. And then he killed six million.
Are we really so naïve as a nation to think that the anti-immigrant fervor, from Lou Dobbs to the Minutemen, is anything about our economy or our well-being or our way of life? After all, our nation was built by immigrants, our strongest economic times in recent years have been driven by high rates of immigration and even now, our economy actively lures low-wage worker from across the border to get back on firm footing. Do we really think we'd be reacting as negatively if the immigrants coming here had light skin and spoke French?
Jason Bush, one of the other Minutemen charged in the Arizona murder, was charged in another slaying in 1997 in Washington State. He allegedly bragged to a police informant about "killing a Mexican." The man Bush killed was a 29-year-old homeless man who had been sleeping under a blanket near a parking lot when Bush stabbed him several times with a knife.
Regarding the Arizona murders, the Minutemen American Defense group has placed the following statement on its website:
MAD does not endorse or condone any events that are outside of the normal boundaries of any normal private citizen who is concerned about the current conditions of the opened border condition and we do work totally within the boundaries and with the total cooperation and knowledge of all appropriate Law enforcement agencies in our areas of operation.
While revealing how ironic it is that groups like M.A.D. criticize new immigrants for not speaking English, the statement does anything but condemn violence against immigrants. It's worth noting here that Forde and her gang allegedly entered the Flores home wearing law enforcement attire. Groups like the Minutemen are pretending to uphold laws that they flagrantly violate. Who are the real law breakers? Immigrants who come to the United States without legal permission but every single economic invitation, to work for companies that actively recruit them in order to support their desperate families back home? Or the vigilantes who prowl our southern border with assault rifles and camouflage and raid innocent families' homes and slaughter 9-year-old children?
"This was a planned home invasion where the plan was to kill all the people inside this trailer so there would be no witnesses," said Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona. "To just kill a 9-year-old girl because she might be a potential witness to me is just one of the most despicable acts that I have heard of."
I actually feel badly for Shawna Forde. She was fed a load of crap about how her economic troubles and sense that the 21st century was passing her by were the fault not of something vague like the public education system or American trade policies or Reaganomics but something specific, something dark-skinned, something that fit perfectly into the us-versus-them scary story that readily embraces misplaced blame: immigrants. Never mind that we were all in the same boat, sinking fast, immigrants and citizens alike --- and never mind that shaking her fist at foreigners and patrolling the US-Mexico border was distracting Shawna from taking action that would have brought about real change, like making our economy more democratic, changing tax policy to help working families, easing the burden of health care costs and gas. No, Shawna believed the hate mongerers on CNN and the internet and stuck to her guns. Literally. But if the allegations against her are true, Shawna can really only be blamed for taking to extremes the garbage that so many Americans believe is true, the lies we swallow to make the bigger pill of America's real, shared problems seemingly dissolve but in truth get stuck in our collective throat as we're looking the other way.
The alleged acts of Shawna Forde and her gang are inhumane. Our outdated immigration policies are inhumane. We can and must reform our immigration laws to make America work better for all of us, immigrants and citizens alike. That is the only pro-America side of this debate. Everything else must be unmasked for what it is -- a façade for an anti-immigrant bloodbath. On which side will you stand?