Immigrant Rape Survivors: The Target of Contempt

June 20, 2011

© Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images

As unemployment continues to worry Americans, and immigrants remain an easy scapegoat of frustration, we have heard some pretty outrageous and contemptible comments against immigrants lately.

However, about a week ago state GOP Representative Ryan Fattman of Massachusetts surpassed our expectations in his shocking announcement that he is willing to let rapists roam the streets with impunity—that is, as long as the victim is an undocumented woman.

Rep. Fattman supports Secure Communities, a federal program that automatically sends the fingerprints of people arrested and booked by local law enforcement offices to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Many states, including Massachusetts, have refused to participate, claiming that in addition to coercing local law enforcement into performing a federal function, the program damages the relationship between local law enforcement and the communities they serve.

States like Massachusetts, Illinois and New York have refused to participate because of the possibility that undocumented persons will stop reporting crimes, serving as witnesses, or generally cooperating with the police out of fear that such interactions could lead to federal immigration proceedings.

Of the lawmakers who support Secure Communities, Rep. Fattman’s reasoning is the most alarming, disturbing, and hateful. While most supporters of Secure Communities have tried to sideswipe the concern that it undermines community safety, Rep. Fattman has no qualms throwing rape victims under the bus.

When asked whether he was worried about a woman who had been raped being afraid to go to the police in a Secure Communities state, he responded,

“My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward. If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things.”

He went on to assert that the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” should not apply to suspected undocumented immigrants and that he has no concerns that Secure Communities and other federal/local collaborations on immigration enforcement may lead to illegal racial profiling.

As Alex DiBranco explained in his news story:

[Rep. Fattman] went on to explain to Mother Jones that his quote was taken out of context. The context? “If someone got into a car accident, it’s obviously a tragic event. But if they’re drunk and they crash, it’s a crime. If that person was drunk and survived the accident they would be afraid to come forward. I think if someone is here illegally they should be afraid to come forward because they should be afraid to be deported.”

To recap: rape survivors are equivalent to drunk drivers.

To put it another way: If someone crosses the border without papers because no legal avenue exists, “it’s obviously a tragic event.”

It is (one hopes) unprecedented for a lawmaker to explicitly state that undocumented immigrants deserve no protection after being raped, and rapists no punishment, apparently because crossing the U.S. border undocumented is considered a more egregious crime than committing rape.

Sadly, in the year 2011, Rep. Fattman has created another reason to blame the victim of rape for the violent invasion of her/his body and mind.

Rep. Fattman also demonstrates no empathy for the U.S. citizen children of undocumented people and asserts that they should be deported with their parents, regardless of their constitutional rights. Without a doubt, Rep. Fattman does not see these children as citizens equal to him before the law.

To his credit, he is being transparent about the growing stratification among U.S. citizens, depending on the color of their skin. He’s making clear that second class citizenship does exist, regardless of the law, perhaps due to it, because when even politicians can make racist, sexist, narrow-minded and anti-immigrant statements without any repercussions, it must ring as true.

Absent condemnation by Massachusetts legislators for the vitriol he spewed, Rep. Fattman would understandably believe that his position of power gives him the right to condemn victims of devastating crimes such as rape, condone the impunity for their aggressors, and assert that undocumented people and their children don’t deserve police protection, whether U.S. citizens or not.

Political will is key to countering entrenched attitudes and prejudice. As long as the forces of racism and poverty driving the US immigration system are denied, even wholeheartedly accepted, it is unlikely that any government policy to tweak immigration programs, such as Secure Communities, will succeed.

The refusal to acknowledge discrimination in law or practice as the primary underlying issue in the U.S. immigration system leads the government and society to be willfully blind to the abuse, exploitation, and conditions of slavery many immigrants experience in the U.S.

And in an environment in which the loudest voices are permitted to make false accusations and call for cruel and disproportionate measures based on underlying racism and xenophobia, incendiary remarks remain unchallenged and invisible to the vast majority of people.