A recent story in the New York Times reveals how a fight over immigration is creating a deep divide in a small Nebraska town. Its citizens have forced a referendum on an ordinance that would require businesses and landlords to check immigration status.
Residents who have spoken out about the proposal —for and against — say they have become targets for harassment as tensions mount. One woman’s cat was shot, and another had a rock thrown through her window. Immigrants, even documented ones, say they no longer feel welcome.
People living anywhere in the United States without legal status is a problem, but it seems that much of the controversy in this town is driven by fear of foreigners. Residents complain of hearing Spanish in Wal-Mart and needing interpreters at school events. They say immigrants are driving up crime, though there are no statistics broken down by race and ethnicity to prove their suspicions.
When I was a news reporter, I frequently heard identical complaints in North Carolina communities. People felt threatened by seeing Spanish signs outside businesses and didn’t like not being able to understand their fellow shoppers at Wal-Mart. They talked of immigrant-led crime waves, when statistics showed that crime in their communities had decreased.
They had started thinking of immigrants as hostile invaders rather than human beings.
Here in North Carolina, let’s not allow fear and anger to rip apart our communities. Let’s work together to recognize our common humanity, and make that the foundation for finding a solution to the problem of illegal immigration.