SC immigration law is inhospitable

By Jo-Dee Robinson
Summerville, SC

I am wearing an orange ribbon today because I am afraid. I am a citizen and I am afraid. I fear the change of heart that happens when we legitimize racism in a law such as Senate Bill 20.

I am American born, but I am a Latino. My parents, who immigrated from Cuba, have been proud taxpaying citizens far longer than most of the voices in our current immigration debate.

Yet very often in a state known for its Southern hospitality, the moment I speak Spanish, I am treated differently. The new S.20 immigration law will mean for my family of citizens that we will run the risk of being profiled, detained and investigated because of the color of our skin and our accents. Yet I truly doubt that my Anglo husband will be asked for his papers.

What will happen the day my elderly mother visits us and we encounter the police? I fear that should she leave her license at home, she will be locked up for status investigation and I for “transporting and harboring,” a felony.

First of all, I don’t have time for all that, and neither do our local police who bounce from one service call to another protecting our communities. I don’t want them all tied up at the jail; I want them patrolling my street.

But what I am really concerned about is what happens in the hearts of all of us after that encounter. All of us will suffer a blow to our dignity. You strip me of my identity and sacred worth when you racially profile me. And by removing the ethical fences that resist racial profiling, you taint the dignity of our police officers who work so hard to do their job in a moral and ethical manner.

This kind of encounter that will be law on Jan. 1 is dehumanizing and will be experienced repeatedly by those who look and sound different. Written in between the lines of S.20, and I fear soon on our hearts, is the growing sentiment that says, “If you are foreign, we don’t want you.”

Yes, we have pressing need to address our immigration issues, but regardless of where you are on the position of immigration, certainly you do not intend to send a message to our immigrant citizens and legal residents that they are no more than a profile. Our state still has not healed from the scars of racism, and I fear that S.20 will tear open and re-infect those wounds, while creating new ones.

I was always taught growing up that America is a melting pot. Let’s be honest. Unless we are Native American, we are all immigrants, invaders, or whatever term we wish to use nowadays. As I wear my orange ribbon, I am asking for a better way.

What I am asking in the midst of my fear of S.20 is can we, for a moment, set aside our labels and just be human?

It is no longer a question of law, but of heart. Ultimately, it is our Southern hospitality that is on trial.

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