The United States is a Rapist and Migrants are the Illegitimate Child

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I'm reading Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants' Struggle For U.S. Residency, by Susan Bibler Coutin, for a class I'm taking here at Harvard with Dr. Sarah Willen.  I can't comment on the whole book, since I'm only reading the first two chapters, but I came across this powerful metaphor for mass migration to the U.S.:

Jorge Lima, a Salvadoran who had been active in opposition groups in both the United States and El Salvador, attributed [denying asylum to individuals] to the lack of responsibility regarding the consequences of U.S. policies that destroyed lives in El Salvador. 

Jorge told me that the situation of Central American immigrants "is like when a woman has been raped and is pregnant, see?  Then there's a reality! Understand? She has conceived, and however you try to exterminate that fact, it's a reality!  You can't keep it a secret.  You may not register it in your structures, as though it never existed.  But yes, it did exist!" 

In this graphic image, El Salvador is a raped woman, the United States is the rapist, Central American immigrants are the illegitimate child, and U.S. immigration law is a means of denying the child's existence.
Susan Coutin - Legalizing Moves (2000 : pp. 40-21)

It would be a fair criticism of my writing to say that I dwell too much on doom and injustice.  That's not the best way to attract converts to your cause.  Still, I believe graphic imagery like this metaphor Jorge Lima expressed in an interview is useful for putting migrant rights in perspective. 
I don't fully agree that this is an accurate metaphor.  Portraying the U.S. as a rapist denies the responsibility that Central American countries have for their faults.  However, that does not mean the U.S. gets to deny its own responsibility for mass migration to the U.S.  I've always considered the nativist viewpoint to be historically ignorant.  The U.S. has excacerbated mass migration in the Western Hemisphere for decades, to try and disown and deport the millions of unauthorized migrants from crossing the border now is to practice historical amnesia.  We all have to take responsibility for this situation, and making it harder for migrants is not the solution.  Giving them a reason to stay is. 

Reading Coutin's book I also came to realize something about the struggle for migrant rights.  There's a tendency in the migrant rights movement to make comparisons with the movement to abolish slavery or fight for civil rights, which is not always accurate.  Migrants are facing a unique struggle in these modern times.  They are fighting for the right exist.  The struggle for unauthorized migrants is to have the right to exist outside of the arbitrary lines they were born into.  This struggle completely different from anything we've ever had to face in the past.

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1 Comments

PL said:

*saves for reading list*

Thanks for the powerful words. While the usage of the word 'rape' is sort of trivializing (nonetheless, it is true that all parts of the Americas were 'raped' including Native American women), the imagery invoked is certainly powerful.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on November 11, 2008 11:23 AM.

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