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Welcoming the strangers among us

July 12, 2018

Happening now in today’s United States:

In Los Angeles on the Fourth of July, a woman attacked a 91-year-old man, screaming, “go back to your country” as she battered him.

Last month in Chicago, a drunk man harassed a woman wearing a Puerto Rican flag shirt, shouting, “You’re not an American. If you’re an American, you wouldn’t be wearing that.”

Given the constant barrage of such ugliness, it is hardly surprising to hear that a Santa Fe immigration lawyer has received death threats after her name was mentioned on Fox News. Such is the climate of the country. Hot. Outraged. And seemingly, ready to explode.

The FBI is investigating the threat against lawyer Allegra Love (named one of The New Mexican’s 10 Who Made A Difference in 2017). She has faced abuse before, but not to this degree, she told Searchlight New Mexico, the nonprofit journalism organization that broke this story.

It is unsettling that the phone call came after Love’s name was mentioned in a report on The Ingraham Angle in April. The commentary by host Laura Ingraham came in reference to a project by Love and others, traveling to Mexico to explain U.S. asylum laws to migrants.

Ingraham — who did not contact Love for comment — opened the piece by saying, “We have also learned — this is curious — that American attorneys have traveled southward to meet with migrants to instruct them on their rights to apply for asylum in the United States. We did some digging and, according to reports, two of these lawyers are Allegra Love of Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Marie Vincent, who also works for a small 501(c)3 organization.” (As an aside, the project was featured on NBC Nightly News; it didn’t take much digging by Fox.)

Ingraham went on to say that, “If these attorneys are holding what is being described as these large group seminars and demonstrate intent to skirt the laws or to help the migrant skirt the laws, well, they could be in jeopardy, at least technically.”

Five days later, a caller from a New Mexico number left this voicemail for Love: I’m going to murder every one of you tyranny-loving [expletive]. Be ready for me! You are all [expletive] dead.”

Just another day in the USA.

For more than two weeks, Love slept away from her home. The FBI deemed the threat credible, meaning that it went beyond ranting. The caller stated how, when and where Love and her co-workers could die.

Such rage is occurring all over the United States. The FBI reported that in 2016, the number of hate crimes jumped 5 percent from the previous year. That’s the most recent year available from the FBI, but academic researchers in California took police data from 2017 to update the totals. In the nation’s 10 largest cities, hate crimes have risen for four straight years — they’re at the highest level in a decade, researchers from California State University San Bernardino reported.

The trends, in other words, are discouraging.

What we need in the United States is a leader to calm things down. Many years, that person would be the president, but he doesn’t seem concerned. No wonder.

The president’s rhetoric inflames our dialogue. Just consider the language he has used, claiming that migrants will “infest” our country. This is does nothing to soothe battered feelings.

Absent presidential leadership, other politicians — senators or representatives from both parties, governors of states, local officials — all should step up to encourage kindness. Former President Barack Obama, perhaps joined by ex-Presidents George W. Bush and his dad, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, could speak out.

Religious leaders are crucial, too. Now would be a great time for ministers, especially evangelical pastors with big followings, to preach on racism and hate.

They could start with the commandment from Jesus — “love one another” — and then reflect on Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Whacking an old man is hardly welcoming (by the way, he is a permanent legal resident). Screaming at a woman in the park does not demonstrate love (and Puerto Rico, of course, is part of the United States and has been for more than a century).

And death threats against people trying to improve the lives of the strangers among us are nothing less than sin. It also is a crime, one that we trust the FBI can trace to its source, so that people doing this essential work have nothing to fear.

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