Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reject messages of hate and fear

By Marc Brenman

As I read "Minuteman Rally Draws 100" (The Herald, July 1), the movie "A Day Without a Mexican" came to mind. While several hours of dramatic satire gets a little old, this movie certainly drives home an important point: immigrants, including Hispanics, contribute to the United States in ways many of us don't realize.

According to the article, the city of Everett markets itself as a "world-class destination," a hard goal to achieve if it is not willing to welcome those from other countries. We must not forget that most people in America only need to look back a few generations to find the immigrants who decided to make a change for their family. The vast majority of us would not be where we are today were it not for immigration. It's also important to remember that we were not the original inhabitants of this country.

History tells us that immigrants from around the world have chosen to leave their country of origin for a better life in the United States. Immigrants have the same desires and goals we all have - to participate in a democracy as citizens, to give back to the community, to provide for our families and to build a better life with more opportunities. It is sad to see that the Minutemen and similar groups have succumbed to using hate propaganda to undermine basic tenants of American democracy - opportunity and tolerance.

We should not forget that the inscription on the Statue of Liberty reads, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ... " Imagine if our families had not been allowed to enter the United States, or if the Indians had not welcomed and cared for Anglos and had instead deported us back to Europe.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Minutemen have made progress in some of our communities, including in Everett. The Minutemen rely on the use of hateful speech, the Big Lie, and fear of people who are different to corrupt and coarsen political dialogue, just as their Nazi forebears did. The so-called Minutemen, like their former fellow traveler Tim McVey, are precursors to domestic terrorism and vigilantism. The federal government is charged with enforcing the immigration laws of the United States. Let the federal government do its job, without "assistance" from gun-toting, self-appointed know-nothings.

Contrary to the Minuteman Project's assertions, immigrants greatly contribute to the American economy, through taxes on sales, gasoline, excise, business and property. Further, undocumented immigrants are not disproportionately receiving social welfare benefits. Immigrants contribute heavily to agribusiness and help keep food prices low. A December 2006 report from the Texas Office of the Comptroller reports that without the 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas alone, the state would have lost $17.7 billion. While the statistics for a similar study in Washington may yield slightly different results, the numbers cannot be ignored. Communities that are most welcoming and diverse are the most economically successful.

The Washington State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) enforces the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), including discrimination on the basis of national origin. The WSHRC is the third oldest civil rights enforcement agency in the country. Our Legislature has a long history of taking a strong stand against discrimination. Under state and federal law, an employer must have a solid non-discriminatory reason for "English-only" rules. Prejudice and intolerance are not sufficient reasons. Similarly, an employer cannot hire a person based on the preference for hiring those of a certain national origin over others.

As a state, we should be proud of enforcing some of the strongest, most tested nondiscrimination laws in the country. In the words of Csar Chavez, "When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick."

Marc Brenman is the executive director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission.


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