A personal view by Shanna Rosing
During his first speech to Congress, President Trump announced that he would be forming a new committee focused on publishing criminal acts committed by immigrants, legal and illegal. VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, can be viewed as the Trump administration’s latest attempt to taint the public’s opinion of immigrants and create discord between “us” and “them.” Without denying the needs of victims for a natural recovery from any criminal act, it is important to note that Trump’s VOICE leaves no room for immigrants who have been victims of an American citizen committing a crime. This limited view of the engagement between natural born citizens of America and immigrant members of our society denies the advancement of education and understanding necessary for the unity of our country. Crimes are born of larger societal problems, such as poverty, lack of higher education, mental illness and even substance abuse. These problems affect people from all backgrounds and need to be addressed in a humanitarian effort. VOICE will serve no purpose other than to further divide our country, fueling distrust and hatred that will distract us from solving larger problems that we all face.
President Trump’s announcement had a rather startling effect on me personally because I am a victim of an illegal immigrant who committed a crime in this country. A crime that many of my family members and friends have committed, a crime that is often joked about and, while holding a heavy negative stigma in formal public arenas, a crime that is easy to commit no matter who you are. That crime was drunk driving.
It was thirteen years ago on a cold evening in Colorado, the day after Thanksgiving. Cars full of strangers passed by each other on a darkening highway. One held my aunt and uncle returning home to their children after a dinner with friends. Another car held a family who was living here illegally—it took me thirteen years even to attempt to imagine the festivities of their evening free from the taint of a negative filter. The father was driving and he was drunk. He hit my aunt and uncle’s car from behind and caused the chaos that followed. My aunt and uncle’s car flipped multiple times, my aunt’s neck breaking before the car came to a stop. If information regarding the damage to the other car was available, I guess it was not important enough for me to remember. I did not allow myself to feel anything for the man or the family who was in that other car. The father was arrested and served roughly half of his small sentence before being, we could only assume, deported. Most of my family members verbalized what I was feeling and we encouraged each other to feel justified in thinking that “they shouldn’t have even been in this country” and “if they wouldn’t have come here illegally, our family would still be complete.”
I could describe at length what a wonderful person my aunt was and how her influence is still felt today by everyone who knew her, but I have realized that, while doing natural things like mourn a beautiful life and learn an incredibly sobering life lesson, I have not allowed myself to think about the lives that were changed on the other end of this accident.
An entire other family was involved in this accident. The children who were in the accident saw my aunt and uncle’s car crashing into the roadway, then turning and twisting to crash again and again further down the roadway. Those children probably saw my uncle’s reaction to his dead wife’s body or saw her being removed from the wreckage. Worse, they saw their father in all of those moments leading up to his arrest. They lost a parent that night, too. Possibly, they have lost even more than that. An entire community came together for my family when we lost my aunt, and for many people this other family was not to be talked about. I can only hope that someone was there for the mother and children during the trials that followed and the prison sentence that this man served. The children are adults now, just like me, and together we make up an important part of the world’s population, no matter what side of what border we may now be living on. Realizing the value of this other family’s experience despite the tragic outcome was an important step in my grieving process.
Over the course of Trump’s candidacy and of his presidency so far, I have been struck by the administration’s depiction of immigrants (illegal or not) as criminals. A criminal is a person who has committed a crime, a definition that begs for a closer look into its context. Most often, criminals are people who have made poor choices at some point in their lives, and who among us can honestly say that they have never made a morally wrong choice? “Victim,” just like “criminal,” is a designation that lacks the human element of growth and change; it inherently feeds feelings of isolation and injury. Pitting victims against criminals in a public arena can only stunt the progress our nation has made as a melting pot of multiple cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
VOICE is an attempt to fan the fire of nationalism that distracts our country from engaging with global growth in all fields. Volunteers like me and the Humane Party as a whole will not acknowledge this attempt by the Trump administration to discredit individuals and further divide our nation. In order to grow as a nation, let us remember that labels such as “criminal” and “immigrant” are given to people who think and feel and react just like ourselves and that their stories also call for acknowledgment.