Guest Spot: Argument rife with hypocrisy, xenophobia

10/26/2014 8:00 AM |


If you’re a person who believes we can’t possibly reduce gun violence with policies that outlaw guns in our communities, then you cannot also argue that somehow we will magically eradicate crime and gang violence in our neighborhoods by enacting different immigration policies. 

I find it ironic that the argument against gun control is all about how it’s only a few bad eggs who use guns to attack others, while the vast majority of gun owners are perfect members of our society, yet you’ll likely read letters on these pages and in the comments section of The Suffolk Times website berating an entire community of immigrants and assailing the president’s immigration policies based on the horrific actions of four people.

So policy can end crime when it comes to immigration, but not when it comes to removing the deadly weapons used to commit these crimes?

Any claims that crime is somehow elevated in the Latino population here versus the general population are based on xenophobia, not statistics. I’m not talking about traffic stops for unlicensed driving, but actual crime: assault, fights in bars, theft, etc. There are bad apples and glass houses in every community, including yours. For those not familiar with the arc of U.S. history, it was only a century ago when the KKK roamed the streets of Long Island towns, including Greenport, saying the same exact things about Irish, German, and Italian immigrants that I hear said today about people from Mexico and Central America.

I am confident about which side of that history I want to be on; I encourage my fellow North Forkers to consider the same.

If you ever want to hear a great and possibly terrifying story, ask somebody who immigrated here from Mexico or Central America about his or her journey, and why they decided to leave home to come here. Yes, many will have come here illegally, and yes, of course they should have obeyed the law in doing so. You also shouldn’t use a handheld phone while driving and you probably shouldn’t have done that thing in high school when you got busted by the cops, or your parents or your friend’s parents.

Talk with a neighbor in your community about his or her experience coming here, and I promise you the legality of his or her journey will quickly be overshadowed by the intensity of his or her desire to live the American dream we so easily take for granted. Next time you are driving on the North Road in a driving rain, biting winter wind, or snowstorm, observe the guys riding bicycles on the shoulder, and realize you are seeing people who, yes, may have broken the law to get here, but now are observing the law in the worst way possible: riding a bicycle to work in horrible weather instead of operating a motor vehicle without a license.

It’s easy to wave the Stars and Stripes and make nasty comments about Latino people in the name of your alleged passion for our country. But ask yourself if you love our country enough to ride 15 miles to work on a bike in a winter storm. Ask yourself if you love our country enough to leave your family behind and take a multi-day journey through jungles and deserts where you are vulnerable to all sorts of natural and human elements that will take advantage of you if given a chance.

If you are concerned about somebody’s taxpayer status, note that many undocumented people do pay taxes — payroll, sales, and otherwise. More importantly, our schools are funded by property taxes paid by homeowners. So there are plenty of U.S.-born students in our public schools whose parents may be renting and, therefore, not technically contributing tax dollars to support our schools. Part of what makes our country great is that we have a commitment to universal schooling, regardless of a student’s parents’ property ownership status.

There is also a strong statistical relationship between early childhood education and the reduction of a student’s likelihood to some day end up committing the kind of violent crime that allegedly took place on South Harbor Road in Southold last week. So those who like to complain that our schools are wasting money educating the children of immigrants are not only racists, they are actually advocating against reducing violent crime in our society. Perhaps most importantly, denying public education to a child is just mean and wholly un-American.

Finally, I would suggest that unless this newspaper intends to stoke anti-immigrant feelings, it might refrain from reporting the language spoken by the people it interviews. If it is not news that an interviewee speaks English, Polish, Greek or Italian, why is it news that the person who answered the door when you knocked spoke Spanish? Let’s focus this conversation on things that matter and on action we can take to help make sure nobody will ever again be a victim of gun violence in one of our communities.

Let’s make sure students have support at school and at home, and choose not to join a gang. Let’s treat each other like neighbors whether we come from Central America or Central Islip. Let’s keep our eyes peeled for the bad guys of all shapes, sizes, and national origins, and while we’re at it, let’s make it really hard for them to get access to guns. Let’s not let one isolated tragic event be used to bludgeon the North Fork’s Latino community.

They already absorb their share of abuse around here.

Douglas Roberts, a former teacher, lives in Greenport. He leads a consulting practice in educational technology.