Commentary Violence

Cornell’s Response to Intimate Partner Death of Student Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Renee Bracey Sherman

If Cornell truly wants to see a reduction in incidents of gender-based violence like the one that ended the life of Shannon Jones on Thanksgiving, the school needs to do more to change the culture that has allowed this sort of violence to persist on campus.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

As my fellow Cornell University students and I returned to campus from the Thanksgiving holiday and started our final week of classes, we were heartbroken to learn that one student would not be returning.

Reports of Shannon Jones’ death by strangulation at the hands of her boyfriend, Benjamin Cayea, 32, on Thanksgiving evening spread throughout campus. Jones, 23, hailed by her peers as a bright student, was expected to graduate with a degree in engineering next May.

In the days after her death, my classmates spoke of “the girl who was murdered” with bewilderment and frustration. In classrooms, students could be heard expressing confusion, muttering things like, “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to people like us. It’s not supposed to.” Many of them believed that intimate partner violence wouldn’t enter the ivory tower. But in reality, intimate partner violence is extremely rampant on college campuses. It’s also not getting the attention it deserves nor being dealt with adequately.

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If Cornell truly wants to reduce intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence against its students, the university needs to do more than create another program aimed at addressing violence and sexual abuse; it needs to get the entire campus involved in changing the culture that has allowed this sort of violence to persist. We must have an ongoing conversation about healthy relationships, consent, and intimate partner violence, not only during orientation week, but throughout the school year and students’ entire time at Cornell. The school must also stress how serious gender-based violence is as an issue—attending this campus is not a right; it is a privilege that should be taken away when you assault or rape another human being.

According to police reports, Jones and Cayea had an argument at Jones’ off-campus apartment at approximately 6:30 p.m. In a police interview, Cayea admitted to strangling Jones during the fight, then drove her car to a friend’s apartment and told him, from the parking lot of his apartment, what he had done. Jacob Ives, Cayea’s friend, then called the police, and Cayea was arrested. “She would not stop coming at me, she would not stop yelling. I did it; I choked her,” Cayea reportedly said, according to Ives. When police arrived at Jones’ apartment, she was found without a pulse and pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Cayea was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder without bail, and his case has been transferred to Tompkins County.

“I feel that Shannon’s unfortunate death has been a surprise to most people in the Cornell community,” said Runjini Raman, Cornell University graduate student and intimate partner violence advocate, told Rewire. “We tell ourselves stories about women in abusive relationships so that they can feel like far away faceless women, that it only manifests in bruises and blood, and that makes us blind, not realizing it happens to someone we may know.”

A 2011 online survey of U.S. college students found that only 8 percent of students believe that intimate partner violence is a major problem on campus, and almost 50 percent believe it is not a problem at all. In fact, intimate partner violence is quite common among college students, though many survivors are reluctant to come forward due to retaliation. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in five students have reported experiencing violence by a current partner, and 32 percent have reported dating violence by a former partner. These rates increase at the intersectionality of class, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. For example, Black women are three times more likely to be murdered by their intimate partners than white women, according to an analysis of homicide data conducted by the Violence Policy Center.

According to Cornell’s records provided in compliance with the Clery Act, there were four reported cases of domestic violence and one stalking case last year. 2013 was the first year they began recording such statistics, and of course these figures don’t reflect the number of women who feared coming forward.

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and women between the ages of 20 and 24 are most at risk, explained Jessica Li, Cornell University alumni and executive director of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). Li says that while she attended Cornell, a classmate was in an unhealthy relationship and Li recognized the early warning signs of jealousy, possessiveness, and isolation from friends by her abuser. “As friends, we didn’t know where to refer her to on campus, and she didn’t recognize that she was a survivor of dating violence.” A college-wide effort focused on improving students’ knowledge of rape culture and campus resources might reduce this sort of confusion and increase the number of students reporting violent acts.

Recent research also shows an overlap of intimate partner abuse and violence: Among the female respondents to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey who experienced sexual abuse, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner, about “8.7% experienced rape and physical violence, 14.4% experienced physical violence and stalking, and 12.5% experienced all three forms” of intimate partner violence. This abuse has a deep and negative impact on their health, leading to anxiety, depression, physical harm, sexually transmitted diseases, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in some cases death. Not to mention, student survivors in particular experience challenges in finishing class assignments or fear being on campus, which makes finishing their education difficult.

Title IX, the federal law that protects students from gender-based violence, guarantees a student’s equal access to education. Title IX outlines steps that colleges must take when investigating gender-based violence on campus, including: providing support to students including changing of a student’s housing, changing class schedules, and offering protection when they’re experiencing stalking, harassment, and other violence by their abuser.

In 2011, the White House issued a “Dear Colleague” letter outlining steps colleges should take to reduce sexual assaults on campus; however, little attention was paid to intimate partner violence. In a article, survivor and campus sexual assault activist Wagatwe Wanjuki explained that sexual assault is getting much-needed attention, though we must not forget to include intimate partner violence as part of the conversation. “Title IX can force schools to provide support for student survivors, but unfortunately the narrative around the law has focused on sexual assault to the detriment of intimate partner violence survivors,” said Wanjuki. “It is crucial for the Department of Education to provide more Dear Colleague letters to further clarify and state what schools need to do to help the abused.”

Cornell University, like other schools, has put many of the Dear Colleague letter recommendations in place to reduce gender-based violence on campus. “We have zero tolerance for intimate partner violence in any form,” said Mary Opperman, Cornell University’s vice president for human resources, in an email to Rewire. “In 2013, we established the Council on Sexual Violence Prevention to develop and implement new programs, and the group is currently developing an action plan to incorporate new educational programs, support services, reporting mechanisms, and data collection.”

But are these individual programs enough to ignite a campus-wide culture change discussion? Some students say no. Campus organizers have identified gender-based violence as a key issue that they would like the school’s first female president, Elizabeth Garrett, to tackle in her incoming administration. President-elect Garrett was instrumental in changing the sexual assault policies at the University of Southern California and passing California’s affirmative consent or “yes means yes” law.

The lack of discussion around Jones’ murder has left students feeling frustrated with the school and larger Ithaca community, especially in light of a recent article about what a “great” guy her killer is. “I feel disappointed and wish that more people saw this act of violence within the larger context of domestic abuse and violence against women,” said Cornell graduate student and social justice activist Johanna Zussman-Dobbins. “Refusing to do so is a way that the university and the community side steps accountability on these issues.”

During her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, Zussman-Dobbins says she served as a panelist for an intimate partner case while working on campus. “One summer they really needed a student to come sit on the panel,” she said. The case she heard was one that had already been postponed several times to accommodate the accused’s schedule and made her question Cornell’s commitment to survivors. “In my opinion, postponing the trial sent the message to me as a young undergraduate that Cornell valued the future of this man more than the future and safety of this young woman.”

When a report of intimate partner violence is filed, both students attend a hearing that consists of faculty and several student panelists who hear the case. “We think that’s a huge benefit for both parties,” explained Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator at a recent campus event. “We don’t force students to file a report … he or she can choose which avenue they want to pursue.” Grant outlined that students could choose to file reports with Cornell, the local police, or both, and that investigations would include hearing from witnesses and sifting through texts, social media, and other documentation for evidence. Should either party not agree with the panel’s decision, they are able to appeal the decision.

Even though Cornell’s reporting process exists to support students claiming they have experienced gender-based violence, the university needs to improve how it talks about intimate partner violence with students. In class, for example, Raman, who advocates for bystander awareness and campus-wide discussion of violence against women, said the issue was often addressed in “a textbook manner” without any empathy for students experiencing violence. “The fact that we still discuss it so nonchalantly … is not OK.”

As a program at Yale University shows, educating bystanders is key to changing the conversation around intimate partner violence on campus. In 2013, Yale was in the news for refusing to expel several students found guilty of “nonconsensual sex.” The Ivy League school has publicly begun to clean up its act after being fined $155,000 by the Department of Education for failing to report gender-based violence crimes in keeping with the Clery Act. “We worked through this with a series of cases dealing with intimate partner violence and using them to enhance the wording, descriptions, and training materials for incoming and current students,” said Vanessa Lamers, who served on the Yale University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and in the Marion County Oregon District Attorney’s Office on Sexual Assault Victim Assistance.

“One of the trainings I find most helpful with college students, especially with male athletes and university fraternities, is masculinities and the bystander approach … [educating men about how the] pressures to appear masculine, strong, and in control push this status quo of violence,” she said. “Training men to be aware of these pushes in their conscious and subconscious is a great way to assist young men be leaders in college.”

Li of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project agrees that educating bystanders is an important strategy when reducing intimate partner violence. Too often, friends, classmates, and family members aren’t aware of the warning signs, and schools could do a better job of holding campus-wide discussions of intimate partner violence and teaching students to intervene when a peer is in need of support. She says some of the warning signs to look out for are abusers checking cell phones and emails without permission, constant texting to check up on the individual, extreme jealousy, isolation from family and friends, pressuring someone to have sex, possessiveness and false accusations, putting someone down constantly, physical violence, and stalking.

Cornell University has a strong presence of fraternities on campus and has programs, such as Wingman 101, targeting men in addressing gender-based violence; however, at a recent campus event titled “State of Sexual Assault at Cornell University,” the administrative staff who spoke about the school’s sexual assault investigative process and student rights under Title IX couldn’t identify any of the programs. If the university’s chief investigator has to rely on audience members to explain what programs are available on campus, that doesn’t bode well for student confidence in the administration.

Similar to other schools, Cornell has set up websites and counseling to support survivors on campus, but they require that the survivors or their peers seek out the resources; students feel the university isn’t as proactive as it could be.

In the wake of Jones’ death, students hope Cornell will not squander this moment and finally begin to shed light on the epidemic that is campus intimate partner violence. “I hope that Cornell takes this horrible crime as a call to arms and puts serious academic and professional thought into creating a safer culture on campus,” said Lamers. Shifting the culture, educating bystanders, and supporting survivors are the only ways we will achieve campuses free of gender-based violence.

Commentary Violence

When It Comes to Threats, Online or on the Campaign Trail, It’s Not Up to Women to ‘Suck It Up’

Lauren Rankin

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new for this election. In fact, the Republican presidential candidate has made an entire campaign out of it. But during a rally last Tuesday, Donald Trump sunk to a new level. He lamented that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, there will be no way to stop her from making judicial nominations.

He said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

For a candidate marred by offensive comment after offensive comment, this language represents a new low, because, as many immediately explained, Trump appears to be making a veiled threat against Clinton, whether he had intended to or not.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called it a “death threat” and Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News host, called it a “direct threat of violence against a political rival.” Former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis said it was “horrifying,” and even the author of an NRA-linked blog initially tweeted, “That was a threat of violence. As a real supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me,” before deleting the tweet as the NRA expressed support for Trump.

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This kind of language is violent in nature on its face, but it is also gendered, following in a long line of misogynistic rhetoric this election season. Chants of “kill the bitch” and “hang the bitch” have become common at Trump rallies. These aren’t solely examples of bitter political sniping; these are overt calls for violence.

When women speak out or assert ourselves, we are challenging long-held cultural norms about women’s place and role in society. Offensively gendered language represents an attempt to maintain the status quo. We’ve seen this violent rhetoric online as well. That isn’t an accident. When individuals throw pejorative terms at those of who refuse to be silenced, they are attempting to render public spaces, online or on the campaign trail, unsafe for us.

There is no shortage of examples demonstrating how individuals who feel threatened by subtle power shifts happening in our society have pushed back against those changes. The interactions happening online, on various social media platforms, offer the most vivid examples of the ways in which people are doing their best to try to make public spaces as uncomfortable as possible for marginalized populations.

Social media offers the opportunity for those whose voices are routinely ignored to hold power in a new way. It is a slow but real shift from old, more traditional structures of privileging certain voices to a more egalitarian megaphone, of sorts.

For marginalized populations, particularly women of color and transgender women, social media can provide an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways that didn’t exist before. But it also means coming up against a wall of opposition, often represented in a mundane but omnipresent flow of hatred, abuse, and violent threats from misogynist trolls.

The internet has proven to be a hostile place for women. According to a report from the United Nations, almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. As someone who has received threats of violence myself, I know what it feels like to have sharing your voice met with rage. There are women who experience this kind of violent rhetoric to an even greater degree than I could ever dream.

The list of women who have been inundated with threats of violence could go on for days. Women like Zerlina Maxwell, who was showered with rape threats after saying that we should teach men not to rape; Lindy West received hundreds upon hundreds of violent and threatening messages after she said that she didn’t think rape jokes were funny; Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was driven off of Twitter after a coordinated attack of racist, sexist, and violent language against her.

And yet, rarely are such threats taken seriously by the broader community, including by those able to do something about it.

Many people remain woefully unaware of how cruel and outright scary it can be for women online, particularly women with prolific digital profiles. Some simply refuse to see it as a real issue, declaring that “It’s just the internet!” and therefore not indicative of potential physical violence. Law enforcement doesn’t even have a solution, often unwilling to take these threats seriously, as Amanda Hess found out.

This kind of response is reflected in those who are trying to defend Donald Trump after the seemingly indefensible. Despite the overwhelming criticism from many, including some renowned Republicans, we have also seen some Trump supporters try to diminish or outright erase the violent aspect of this clearly threatening rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani have both said that they assumed Trump meant get rid of her “by voting.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”

The violent nature of Donald Trump’s comments seem apparent to almost everyone who heard him. To try to dismiss it as a “joke” or insist that it is those who are offended that are wrong is itself harmful. This is textbook gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which a victim’s reality is eroded by telling them that what they experienced isn’t true.

But gaslighting has played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign, with some of his supporters insisting that it is his critics who are overreacting—that it is a culture of political correctness, rather than his inflammatory and oppressive rhetoric, that is the real problem.

This is exactly what women experience online nearly every day, and we are essentially told to just suck it up, that it’s just the internet, that it’s not real. But tell that to Jessica Valenti, who received a death and rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Tell that to Anita Sarkeesian, who had to cancel a speech at Utah State after receiving a death threat against her and the entire school. Tell that to Brianna Wu, a game developer who had to flee her home after death threats. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history as the first woman president, only to have her life threatened by citizens, campaign advisers, and now through a dog whistle spoken by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump’s rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Language matters. When that language is cruel, aggressive, or outright violent, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t come without consequences. There is a reason that it is culturally unacceptable to say certain words like “cunt” and other derogatory terms; they have a history of harm and oppression, and they are often directly tied to acts of violence. When someone tweets a woman “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” it isn’t just a trolling comment; it reflects the fact that in the United States, more women are killed by intimate partners than by any other perpetrator, that three or more women die every day from intimate partner violence. When Donald Trump not only refuses to decry calls of violence and hate speech at his rallies but in fact comes across as threatening his female opponent, it isn’t just an inflammatory gaffe; it reflects the fact that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Threats of violence have no place in presidential campaigns, but they also have no place online, either. Until we commit ourselves to rooting out violent language against women and to making public spaces safer and more accommodating for women and all marginalized people, Trump’s comments are just par for the course.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.


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