OPED: Support cities welcoming those 'yearning to breathe free'

Tribune News Service
  • Political messaging preys on the fear of the unknown
  • Donald Trump has called immigrants murderers and rapists
  • This has led to defunding of law enforcement in so-called sanctuary cities
  • The whole exercise is nothing more than a legislative version of a Trump rant

Fear is among our strongest motivators and is, at its core, a survival instinct millions of years in the making.

A man climbs over a fence to enter an outdoor Mass with Pope Francis in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Pope Francis is scheduled to wrap up his trip to Mexico on Wednesday with some of his most anticipated events: a visit in a Ciudad Juarez prison just days after a riot in another lockup killed 49 inmates and a stop at the Texas border when immigration is a hot issue for the U.S. presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

And while fear can indeed provide an awareness essential to survival, it can also be reactionary and crippling.

Consequently, fear-mongering is common in political communication. Just take stock in the rhetoric coming out of the numerous debates and campaign advertisements related to the upcoming presidential election.

One of the most disturbing uses of fear is playing out as candidates and elected officials prey on the reactionary fears that many Americans have about immigrants, particularly immigrants in the country illegally.

The potency of these messages lies within arguably our greatest human fear, the fear of the unknown, which unfortunately often turns into hate.

Donald Trump, for example, has called immigrants murderers and rapists, promised to build a wall around the United States, and called on the country to block the entry of all foreign Muslims. These reactionary rants fan the flames of the fear dominant in how many of us think and act.

Trump is not alone in using tough talk on immigrants to purportedly provide the security followers seek. Seemingly every Republican candidate has a hardline immigration policy that plays on fear.

Trump: 'It's disgusting what's happening to our country'

This tactic is not limited to the presidential campaign trail either. In a recent trip to the Southwest, I took note of the many state-level campaign ads using the same ill-informed, fear-mongering, tough talk on immigrants.

Not to be outdone, fear-peddlers in Washington too have introduced legislation in Congress aimed at eliminating funding for, of all things, law enforcement of state and local governments that have been deemed sanctuaries for immigrants.

Immigration marchers gather at York County Prison

The congressional effort in fact preys on two fears at once: the fear of immigrants and the fears immigrants themselves have: deportation, the splitting up of families, the decimation of livelihoods and more.

Immigrants are humans too. For many, whether here through official or unofficial channels, their journey to the United States was born out of a desire for survival and a search for security and hope.

Every waking moment, sleepless nights included, immigrants living illegally in the United States are balancing their thoughts between achieving their dreams and avoiding their worst fears.

So-called sanctuary cities or states are not havens of lawlessness, as opponents would have you believe. These jurisdictions simply do not put the time-consuming business of profiling and immigration status checks at the top of their law enforcement priorities, leaving more time for fighting and preventing more critical criminal matters.

Immigrants living in these jurisdictions illegally are thus provided a tiny bit of breathing room and a chance to put more emphasis on their hopes rather than their fears.

For this humane and frankly prudent criminal justice practice, the merchants of fear in Congress want to strip cities or states of money intended to bolster homeland security activities.

We are not even talking about that much money. The funds in question represent less than half of 1 percent of the overall budgets in the largest jurisdictions. Instead, the whole exercise is nothing more than a legislative version of a Trump rant.

Congress should reject this alarmist approach to governance and focus more on creating opportunity and hope for everyone living in the United States, citizenship status aside.

— Don Kusler is the executive director of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy organization (www.adaction.org).