They Need Us Even If It Is Painful to Them

The state of Louisiana represents a microcosm of what is at this moment happening in the United States. A battle of ideologies is unfolding in which immigration is the daily topic.

State lawmaker Valerie Hodges took two months to reintroduce, last week, new xenophobic legislation in her effort to prevent any undocumented immigrant from getting married in Louisiana. A federal judge found her first effort, state law ACT 436, unconstitutional on March 22. ACT 436 required applicants for marriage licenses to present a Social Security number and a birth certificate.

The federal judge was emphatic in his ruling, noting that the requirement for a birth certificate to receive a marriage license violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution by discriminating against immigrants and violating their fundamental rights. His decision marks an important victory at a time when the undocumented population is under judicial siege from state legislatures and the current federal administration.

What a mental lapse Ms. Hodges had! If we go back to September 2005, less than a week after the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina claimed the lives of 1,833 people and forced the evacuation of almost a million residents, the Mexican government was already collaborating by sky, sea and land to support the people affected in Louisiana.

On the ground, there were 14 trucks with 196 members of the Mexican Armed Forces, bringing medical personnel and supplies to shelters for displaced persons located in the city of San Antonio. By sea, the ship Papaloapan headed to the Mississippi coast with food, water, medicine and rescue equipment. And by air, five planes of the Mexican Air Force transported 200 tons of food. In the 12 years since the natural disaster, the state of Louisiana has recovered faster than expected. Would you like to know why?

In a matter of months after Katrina, in New Orleans alone, nearly 15,000 undocumented immigrants were already cleaning and rebuilding the city. Such was the increase in Mexican immigrant laborers that the Mexican government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs mobilized quickly, so that, by early 2008, a consulate in that city was again working to provide documentation and protection for its citizens residing in Louisiana and Mississippi. It is relevant that President George W. Bush himself was present at the reopening of this diplomatic site in gratitude for the support received from the Mexican government and the immigrant labor force that helped rebuild the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.

But there was more! Immigrant labor and the rapid rebuilding of its cities helped the state of Louisiana allow much of its refugee community to return, so that, by 2010, its population was sufficient to retain six of seven Congressional Districts along with the portion of the federal budget allocated to it in accord with the number of people living there (a number which includes undocumented residents).

All that would be enough for us to assume that immigrants would be treated today in the state of Louisiana, if not as heroes, at least as outlined in the basic guidelines found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, I cite articles 1 and 23, which declare, respectively that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and “every person has the right to work without any discrimination.”

We cannot allow the fanaticism of xenophobic legislators to justify government discrimination. Fortunately, the Judiciary continues to bring us victories, and with them, the hope of a promising and shared future.

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