“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
….and if they don’t suck me off, they can just go back where they came from!” (Emphasis mine, duh)

I substituted that disgusting and vulgar last line to what is, in complete form, a noble sentiment about the origins of my country because when you read it, it makes you uncomfortable – “suck me off” – eww. It makes you cringe, as you do when someone lowers the tone of discourse on a serious subject to the point that you’re a bit embarrassed. Like when some puerile heckler yells out an obscenity during a dignified speech.

That cringe, that embarrassment is what I hope people will keep in their minds as they read this article from the NY Times (hat tip to Eliza) about sexual (and financial) blackmail perpetrated by immigration officials on immigrants desperate to have their legal status approved. Most of the sexual assault victims are female of course.

These people are obviously sick. But one must also recognize institutional complicity: if you insist that, legally, a whole category of humans is not deserving of the same rights and protections as another group, someone will always take advantage of that (our) moral indifference to exploit and abuse them. They will play on immigrant’s fears of deportations and treat them like garbage. And as long as we let immigrants live in fear, and treat them like criminals, it will keep happening.

This is just one woman’s story:

[The immigration agent] hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that she was recording everything on the cellphone in her purse.

“I want sex,” he said on the recording. “One or two times. That’s all. You get your green card. You won’t have to see me anymore.”

She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried to leave his car, he demanded oral sex “now,” to “know that you’re serious.” And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.

While the article notes there have been actual incidents of rape, this sort of blackmail, where the assault is not physically forced is almost more insidious, because one is being forced to choose between essentially prostituting yourself in the short term and potentially destroying your life in the long term (by risking deportation). It must add immensely to feelings of guilt, degredation, and powerlessness, not to mention the damage it could do to close relations (in the above case, a marriage) were the abuse to be discovered.

These are the kind of people who make my skin crawl, who induce the aforementioned cringing, who disgust and embarrass me, as they should the entire country.

But more importantly than disgust on an individual level is the importance of examining a system where these people are allowed to thrive. This type of abuse

suggests the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growing desperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status [and] raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of non-citizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.

I know some folks will say it’s just a few bad apples, but the system they’re in let those few bad apples succeed and even thrive, and the policy that system is based on is the responsibility of all of us.