I noted the word “illegal” to describe Maribel Trujillo-Diaz and her husband in a recent editorial (“Is immigrant’s husband in this country illegally, too?” - Cincinnati Enquirer, May 2, 2017). I am deeply troubled by the use of this word to describe any human being. My concern is not a matter of semantics or political correctness, but rather indicative of a mindset that can lead us down a dark and disastrous path.
To define a person as “illegal” negates their personhood and status as a child of God. Such language dehumanizes our neighbor. I believe that it is just this mindset that enabled the Nazis to exterminate millions of Jews. It is this thinking that allowed the Hutus to murder nearly one million Tutsis, who had an identical DNA, in Rwanda in 1994, because Belgian colonialists had convinced them the Tutsis were less than human. Our nation’s history of dehumanizing slaves and identifying them as 3/5 human plagues us to this day.
Genocide, in its varied and ugly forms, is always necessitated by and preceded by dehumanizing the other. To identify undocumented immigrants as “illegal” can only lead us to some very unmerciful and inhumane places. Maribel committed an illegal act in entering our country without papers over fifteen years ago. We should be clear, she is not an “illegal.”
Meanwhile, I read in The Cincinnati Enquirer on May 4, that state representative Wes Rutherford, who was found by police slumped over his steering wheel, stone-cold intoxicated with a loaded firearm in his car received no jail time. The judge said, “Even good people make mistakes.” I am all for second chances for those who repent of bad decisions. Forgiveness is at the heart of the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity). To make my point, we will not, henceforth, refer to Mr. Rutherford as our “illegal” state representative. He is not illegal, only his careless action was. Based on his no-contest plea and promise of reform, he was forgiven.
Likewise, Maribel has repented of her illegal action. She has been a law-abiding, responsible, employed, contributing, and tax-paying neighbor. She has been a blessing to her church, community, and family. She, too, is not “illegal” and is deserving of a second chance. Justice cries out for her return to her home and family. The wrong can be righted. Or as my grandfather used to say to me as a child, “Henry, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.”
About the Author: Pastor Henry Zorn is Co-Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, OH. A vibrant and welcoming community of faith and a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.