Undoubtedly, some people are cheering the nationwide crackdown on immigrant communities last weekend that led to nearly 700 arrests around the country, 41 of which were in New York, including five on Staten Island.
Count us out of the cheering section.
Not because we support having drug dealers, gang members and other members of the criminal class as our neighbors, whom federal officials said was their target. On the contrary, we completely support law enforcement efforts to rid our streets of this element.
We know, too, that immigration sweeps are nothing new. The Obama administration set deportation records, targeting violent criminals and sending them on their way. We applaud that approach too, as long as due process was observed and the deportations were carried out in an orderly— though overly long—system.
What disturbs us now, though, is that immigrants, whether here legally or not, are being demonized to an alarming degree, characterized en masse as job-stealing, drug-dealing rapists and murderers.
Is it any wonder, then, that we’re seeing incidents like one in late January in Portland, Ore., when a group of eight men dressed as hunters came to the door of a Catholic church during the Spanish Mass and began howling at worshipers, accusing them of not being true Christians, questioning the sexual morals of the women and haranguing the congregation for being made up of immigrants?
President Trump’s strong anti-immigrant rhetoric, first during his campaign and now in his young administration, set the tone, making it clear that deporting illegal immigrants is a priority.
Indeed, one of his earliest acts as president was an executive order, elaborately rolled out, that greatly expands the power of immigration officers, allowing them to detain virtually anyone with whom they come in contact.
Against that background, and with fears and rumors spreading last weekend in New York, it’s hardly surprising that a parish like St. Roch’s on Staten Island, a largely immigrant congregation, was nearly empty for Sunday Mass. Msgr. Edmund Whalen, who celebrates Mass there regularly, told the Daily News that he usually preaches to a full house on Sundays, but this week the church was half empty. “There is a sense of uncertainty. They don’t know what’s coming next,” he said.
Neither do we.
That’s why we think a toning down in the rhetoric is in order, and a clearly articulated policy is due from the administration.
Maybe a successful effort to deport violent criminals, coupled with rational common-sense immigration reform, will pull us into the cheering section. We’re not holding our breath while we wait, but you’ll see a rhetorical sigh of relief on this page if such an outcome happens.
In the meantime, we continue to support the hard-working immigrant families in our midst, and pray that we’ll find a fair and peaceful path ahead.