[From feb. 26 issue of Inprint]
Every year, would-be immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America endure grueling ordeals to reach the United States. Most come overland, and at the Mexican border they traverse miles of desert, often with little food and water, sometimes with fatal consequences. Over the past few years, because the government and volunteer/vigilante groups like the Minutemen have stepped up efforts to patrol the border regions, these desert trails have only grown longer and more perilous.
Many make it across—estimates of resident illegal immigrants in the United States range from 10 to 20 million—and many are able to find jobs and send money home to their families. But some of this human tide is caught—wasting thousands of dollars paid to less-than-reliable guides, or “coyotes”—and others die of exhaustion, heat stroke or dehydration, and their bodies are abandoned.
Essentially, getting here takes more than a jog through the park. That's what made last Thursday's "hunt" in Washington Square Park for Caitlin Kannall, an NYU sophomore from Illinois who wore an "illegal immigrant” placard, staged by NYU's College Republicans, so disgusting. It was impossible to ignore the event's racist, violent and paranoid connotations.
Sarah Chambers, president of the College Republicans, told NYU’s newspaper, *Washington Square News*, that the group wanted to provoke controversy. Even though no more than a dozen students donned the “I.N.S.” nametags, the group got what they wanted. The stunt attracted a mob of national news reporters and a crowd of over 300 counter-protestors. Struggling to contain them behind barricades, the police shut down one of the park’s adjoining streets.
Only an hour into the debacle, according to *WSN*, protestors climbed over the barricades, swarmed around the club’s information table and began chanting, “Racists out.”
Like most college students in the United States, these Republicans will probably never have to risk death, isolation, violence and poverty for their freedom. While it is abhorrent to see humans chased like animals, in this case, it was hard not to grin at the spectacle of the hunters becoming the hunted.
Unfortunately, this great debacle didn't lead to much thoughtful discussion or insight. In general, one thing we should hear more about is why so many immigrants continue to risk the strenuous passage to America. Of course, there are multitudes of answers: the opportunity to escape abject poverty or political persecution, to provide a better education for their children, to find hope or a fresh start. But without actually talking to "illegals"—as opposed to chasing them—we may never know for sure.
One also has to wonder how big of a problem undocumented immigration really is. For all of the comments posted on the *Washington Square News* website condemning illegal immigration, there were few that offered any concrete statistics to explain why it is such a problem. If anything, we have all benefited from immigrants who work horrid jobs to get paid measly wages.
The big question, of course, is what we should do about this influx. Building fences and hunting people down like animals are solutions, but regardless of your political views, they appear to be hopelessly impractical ones.
This is obviously something we need to talk about. So, let's convene a New School conference, invite academic experts, homeland security types, undocumented immigrants, and maybe even some College Republicans...that is, if they agree to check their hunting gear at the door.