Let’s Stop Treating Immigrants Like Naughty Pets
I want to talk about the death of a seven-year-old migrant girl at the hands of her negligent father. And how it’s being politicized. Blamed on the U.S. Border Patrol, used to demonize our law enforcement and undermine our laws.
Here are the basic facts. Nery Caal, 29, dragged his seven-year-old daughter, Jakelin, more than a thousand miles, mostly on foot, from Guatemala to Texas. Large swathes of that are desert. Most of it is controlled by narco traffickers and human smugglers. Eighty percent of women and girls who take this route from Central America to the U.S. are raped along the way.
He let his daughter go two days without food or water. Then he was apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol, one of 25,000 people who entered the U.S. illegally in just a single month. He vouched for the fact that he and his daughter were healthy. There was food and water available. He didn’t give her any — it’s not clear why. The next day she died of “dehydration, shock and liver failure,” according to The Washington Post.
And now humanitarian liberals are blaming her death … on the United States of America.
There’s Nothing Much Worse Than a Pat on the Head
To really unpack what this story means, let me offer an anecdote, set in a much more comfortable place: Park Avenue and 82nd Street.
I was never a Marxist. But three summers working as a doorman on New York’s Upper East Side, for limousine liberals, made leftist resentment tempting.
I made a very nice wage. My dad was in the union, and got me the gigs. I earned enough each summer to pay my expenses at Yale. And some of my experiences working were really pleasant. For instance, when I’d draw the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, and could read Dostoevsky novels for $13 an hour. Another happy moment: I got to meet socialist author Irving Howe, whose The World of Our Fathers I’d devoured the past semester. In fact, I schlepped his bags across his Park Avenue lobby. We talked about his book, and he was touched that I had read it.
But there were other moments. One in particular taught me a lot about dehumanizing people—both in really obvious, and more subtle, pernicious ways.
There was one tenant in a building whom the other, Cuban doormen called “La Bruja,” (“The Witch.”) She was haughty, demanding, unfriendly. At first this irked me, but then I took it in stride. She was just a grumpy old lady who’d paid $2 million for her apartment. And she wanted us worker bees to snap to it when she appeared. We worked for her, so that was that.
But then something happened. “La Bruja” came in one afternoon, and surprised me. I hadn’t seen her coming. She caught me reading. It was either a novel by Francois Mauriac, or an intellectual history of Europe. She glanced at the title. She questioned me.
I explained that I was a sophomore at Yale, earning money for the school year. Her eyes lit up. From that day forward she was ostentatiously nice to me, as opposed to the other doormen.
And that’s when I started hating her.
Before that, I just thought she was grumpy, lonely, arthritic or impatient. That she couldn’t help snapping at the elevator operator, or complaining that one of us had opened his collar button. (Our uniforms were polyester, and the lobby was 90 degrees.)
But now I knew better. Now that she recognized me (out of all the others) as one of her fellow humans, and treated me accordingly. I realized suddenly she was doing it on purpose. She knew how to be cordial, but saved that for … the humans. As opposed to … the workers. Suddenly her pleasant, even solicitous treatment of me rankled far more than her previous rudeness.
I was glad when that summer was over.
Treating the Weak Like Pets
There’s something sickly sweet, both alluring and disgusting, in this temptation: to treat other people as beasts. To see those both different from and weaker than us as part of another species. Of course, it’s a perennial human flaw, which doubtless goes back (at least) to the Tower of Babel. Now the really obvious, vulgar way to do that is to treat such people badly. To snap at doormen or waiters, to joke that ethnic or religious minorities are animals or savages. But that kind of elitism is thankfully unfashionable. In fact, such overt bias is a sign nowadays … of being lower class. It’s deplorable.
There’s something sickly sweet, both alluring and disgusting, in this temptation: to treat other people as beasts.
But the temptation remains. Human nature’s a stubborn, cussed beast. It slinks on back to its vomit, if only by the back door. When you can’t get away with treating those weaker or poorer than you like monkeys or rats, instead you treat them as … pets.
You’re ostentatiously nice to them. With one hand you pat them on the head, and the other yourself on the back. You don’t hold them to the same human standards as people like us. When they act in ways that would outrage you if a friend or family member did the same, you make excuses. You shift the blame. You act toward these adult human beings the way that I do when one of my beagles eats a roll of toilet paper.
But Aren’t Those Immigrants … Cute?
And that’s how liberals are treating Nery Caal. If an American parent dragged his daughter through Death Valley and she died, he would go to prison. American parents who leave their kids in cars for 10 minutes while they go in the drug store end up in trouble with social services. They sometimes lose custody. Parents are persecuted for letting their children play unattended outdoors, or go trick-or-treating. But the same people who nod righteously when working class white American parents are punished … react quite differently to Central American migrants.
These aren’t refugees from persecution. They’re not fleeing for their lives. They turned down refuge and jobs in Mexico. They’re entering our country for economic reasons. So there’s no good excuse for endangering their children. None that would pass muster with a family court judge, if American parents did it.
But to hold these people who want to be new Americans to U.S. laws on U.S. soil … why that’s just cruel. It’s like expecting your beagle to know that Macadamia nuts are poison, or blaming a Persian cat for killing birds. That’s not the animal’s fault, you tell yourself, while reading about your fellow human beings. You blame the owners. Or if none are available, you do the next best thing. You blame the Americans. You blame the blue collar workers who are trying to keep some kind of order along our border. And you feel really good about yourself. And that’s what really matters, in the end.