Op-ed by Francisca Porchas
In the fallout from the death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, two quotes keep running through my head:
Hitler’s “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” And Churchill’s “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Since her death, politicians of both parties have seized on the incident to tell a lie about our immigrant community and use the tragedy to advance a racist criminalization agenda.
The story is too similar to the lead-up to SB 1070, which was based on the false propaganda that manipulated the killing of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz by an unidentified person in the desert.
This month, U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon answered Bill O’Reilly’s call for hate legislation when he introduced “Kate’s law.” The bill proposes a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for anyone who has been previously deported and found to have re-entered the country without documentation.
“Kate’s law” would jail people like Norma Bernal, who was profiled and subsequently deported after walking along the railroad track with her children.
It would again separate families like that of Bertha Avila, who was forced to leave a 15-year-old daughter in charge of her other children during her five months in immigrant detention. She would still be in prison today, serving time for returning home to care for her kids who desperately needed her.
The bill is not about solutions. It is about stirring anti-immigrant hysteria and vilifying immigrants to justify mass incarceration.
The Steinle family says they are apolitical. But their testimony allowed congressional leaders and the media to make their pain a political spectacle.
“What happened to Kate was evil personified,” Kate Steinle’s father said during O’Reilly’s show, “But her bright light … has helped us and shows people around the world that with this law (Kate’s Law) that goodness trumps evil.”
Whether knowingly or not, what Mr. Steinle achieves is not a vanquishing of evil but a stripping away of the humanity of those who he equates with evil, those who would be harmed by Salmon’s legislation.
Ultimately that is the intention of the opportunists of this moment. It pits one victim’s pain against another, makes invisible the potential suffering of the entire immigrant community, and tries to justify the war that President Obama has declared on immigrants.
Current policies have already devastated millions of lives through racial profiling, police abuse and the aggressive push to incarcerate. Even after Obama’s executive announcement in November, the administration’s “Operation Cross Check” deported more than 12,000 people in just five operations.
Historically, immigrants have been seen as deserving persecution, capture, punishment and disposal. So it makes sense how easy it’s been for Salmon and others to manipulate this moment.
But if we were to apply that radicalized illogic with which they’re operating as a general principle, then we would arrest all young white males who bear any similarity to the Charleston murderer in response to the killing of Black churchgoers there. But of course we don’t, because we don’t jump to the same conclusions when the stereotypes don’t fit.
Those who are taking advantage of this are not motivated by empathy for a grieving family but a hate for migrant communities. And when we operate on a lie, manipulate a tragedy and allow hate to guide us, we risk more than faulty policy or deepened intolerance. We risk losing our humanity as well. Grief deserves empathy and loss deserves repair. But neither of those are what we see in Rep. Salmon or others’ proposals. By now, Arizona should know better.