Immigrant scapegoating, roundups bear echoes of the Third Reich

Austin American-Statesman, March 7, 2017

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Immigrants are real people, just like you and me. They are here because of simple supply-and-demand economics.

When I was a girl, I was captivated by “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.” The aspiring journalist wrote her diary from 1942 to 1944 while she and her family were in Amsterdam hiding from the Gestapo. She wrote in such a way that I felt as though I were hiding there with her.

Frank wrote about her friends being rounded up, placed in cattle cars and taken to camps to be gassed. Now, for the first time since reading her book, I’m feeling the same quickened heartbeat, horror and fear, but this time for our Latin American immigrants. Thanks to our new president, these “bad hombres,” “bad dudes” are being rounded up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arrested and deported to countries they may not know, countries with gangs and extreme poverty.

Feb. 11, 2017 raid

Feb. 11, 2017 raid

And what a sloppy job ICE is doing. Supposedly, only the most dangerous, violent criminals are targets. Yet in the February raid, according to ICE data 55 percent of the 51 people arrested from the Austin area were non-criminals, and only two had convictions of a violent crime: assault. The majority were merely suspected of being here illegally.

I know these people. Having earned a Spanish degree before becoming a nurse, my charge nurses knew that my favorite families were the monolingual Spanish speakers, so for more than 30 years I got to care for their babies whenever possible.

I loved these recently immigrated families. They were so uncomplicated, so grateful for everything we did for them. They were practicing Catholics with small altars in their homes decorated with a candle, flowers and images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. They did not smoke or drink. They were relatively uneducated and poor, but many of them rich in ways we can only imagine. They loved their babies as much as any other family in neonatal intensive care.

Merida from El Salvador has been a close friend for 25 years. Thirty years ago, she left her three young children with her parents to come to this country to earn money to send back home. She told me of the harrowing ordeal of traversing some 1,200 miles to Texas with a small group of hopeful immigrants led by the “coyote.” She talked about hunger, bad weather and hiding from police and gangs.

Only a desperate person would leave their children and suffer that kind of hardship. They come from places with no opportunity to the land of opportunity to toil and live like paupers so they can send money home. According to the World Bank, in 2015 they sent $67 billion home to lift their families out of poverty.

They pick our fruits and vegetables, clean our toilets, work in hot restaurant kitchens, lay our tile, plant our landscaping, build our buildings. The vast majority of the construction workers I see downtown are immigrants. They work hard. They are dependable and loyal. Ask any employer.

For all the bluster spewing forth from our president, you’d think they were taking our jobs. They are not. They are doing work that Americans don’t want.

And don’t talk to me about their coming here to use our services. The ones I know are too fearful to sign up for Medicaid. When Merida’s body gives out, she will return to El Salvador to enjoy her golden years with her children and grandchildren, who she knows only by telephone. She will not be taking social security nor Medicare.

During hard times in Anne Frank’s post-World War I Germany, the Jews were scapegoated — and murdered. Now, with manufacturing job loss due to automation and globalization, immigrants in our country are being scapegoated — rounded up and deported. Does history really have to repeat itself?

Immigrants are real people, just like you and me. They are here because of simple supply-and-demand economics, and I’m grateful. They have certainly enriched my life.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident, is a retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews. She also wrote a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial pages for 10 years.