I rent homes, mostly to illegal Mexican immigrants. This is the first time in 20 years I've allowed myself to tell that to anyone but my friends. I write this anonymously to protect both my tenants and me from legal prosecution—or should I say "persecution"?
I'm sure I represent a huge group of silenced employers, businesspeople and friends, who deal with immigrants almost every day and see them as very valuable members of this society.
They are my best customers. They're happy to have a place with ceramic floors and nice refrigerators—often for the first time in their lives. Both husband and wife use whatever skills they have to find work and keep a clean home, pay bills and taxes, and raise their children. By the values that we use to judge the worth of our own citizens, they make the grade in every way.
I got notice this morning from a family who has rented from me for 10 years—and was never once late with the rent. They are moving to Nogales, Mexico, out of fear of what might happen to them when SB 1070 becomes law.
Their adolescent sons were born here. Both are culturally very American. It will be very difficult for them to transition to the lower-quality schools in a country they know only through their parents' stories of their youth.
Part of me wants to beg my tenants not to go. If SB 1070 is struck down, or there is finally real immigration reform, they may lose a path to citizenship or legal residency by going back to Mexico. But the husband's fear of getting caught up in the nightmare of a workplace sweep that could land him in detention for months prior to deportation—unable to support his family or even keep the furniture and other assets he's worked so hard for—is a real possibility.
Those who wish to persecute a segment of the population use socioeconomic, political and legal marginalization, so the outcast group cannot defend itself. By denying legal status to immigrants and keeping them at the bottom rung of the wage scale, we have created a class of silent and docile people who live in a constant state of anxiety and isolation.
Let's try just a few of those lines. "They don't want to learn English!" "They're only crossing the border to bring drugs across!" "They're here committing crimes and leaving headless bodies in the desert!" The governor of Arizona can make these kinds of baseless claims all day long (as she does!), but I can't stand up and say, "Not me! I don't know anyone who behaves that way!" Our voices are strangled by a legal noose that seeks to systematically choke off any perception that any of our Mexican brethren are human and deserve consideration.
I now have to decide what kind of person I will be. Can I do more good by keeping silent and not exposing myself or my current tenants to more risk? Or should I put both them and my business at risk and openly support those who have no voice in order to try to change the course of the toxic tide that seems to be sweeping Arizona?
I choose to stay anonymous for this day, but know that the next set of anti-immigrant laws will probably force me as a landlord to ID anyone who rents from me. Yet more of my friends and customers will soon be forced out of the lives they know.
The words to that old adage ring profoundly in my ears: "When they came to take the Jews, I did not speak. When they came to take me, no one was left to speak." Will our community unite to defend those who are silenced, or will we look back years from now in embarrassment and shame for what we didn't say?