Hate’s A Lot Easier in the Abstract, Isn’t It?

I’ve been meaning to comment on this story in the Billings Gazette for the past day, but have found myself pretty busy working on another project or two. It’s a story about the recent detention of a Chinese restaurateur in Columbus and the response of a large group of people from the town who want to ensure that he and his family can stay.

It’s a great piece, one that challenges the assumptions that people make about conservative, small town Montana. The people of Columbus want to keep this family–because they’re hard-working, they’re bringing diversity to the community, and they’re good people.

In the abstract, it’s easy to demonize immigrants. The right wing has made a fortune in political capital in recent years preying on fears and lies about immigrants. Just read the comments at the bottom of the Gazette piece, and you’ll see the kind of rhetoric that these people use–insults about immigrants, racist stereotypes, even racist language. It’s embarrassing to think that other people might assume that Montanans think like that.

Those things are easy to do, when you don’t know someone or know anything. Anti-immigrant fear is driven by ignorance, collective thinking, and base fear-mongering. How can any of us really believe that immigrants come here (legally or illegally) for any other reason than to improve their lives and the lives of their children?

I’ll trust the people of Columbus who know Feng Chen and his family, and want them to be able to stay. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone would take the time to know immigrants as individuals, not as a demonized, stereotyped mass?

One of the powerful lessons of Christian belief is that idea that each of us is indeed, our brother’s keeper. The point, I think, is to personalize our relationships with the whole of humanity, to treat each person as if he/she were indeed a member of our family.

We’ll never reach that aspiration so long as we treat immigrants as a political football to kick and score political points with, or so long as insecure people pin medals of false patriotism on their puffed chests to hide their xenophobic insecurity.

I’ll trust the people of Columbus, with their real small town Montana values, not the ones that been painted on them by people who’ve hijacked real conservative values into hate and fear.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Yeah — a truly great post.

    I’ve thought about shooting a short video of ethnic restaurants with closed signs hanging in their windows (just shoot it on a Sunday or something).

    Obviously, I know a lot of diversity in this country comes legal immigration, but a lot of it is undocumented. And losing it would actually hurt all of us.

  • Not only that, but this story totally refutes one of the biggest myths about immigrants–that they sap local government resources. Are you kidding? How many non-immigrants up and start a family business? Not a lot, because it is risky and hard. Now try doing it in a foreign country, with foreign laws, and in a foreign language.

    These are exactly the kind of people we want to stay in our country because they make our economy more healthy.

    And, as was already said, they are just good folks.

  • “this story totally refutes one of the biggest myths about immigrants”

    This is a nice feel good story. It’s anecdotal. One instance isn’t a representative sample. Drawing conclusions from one family on the positive side is no different from looking at the attempted murder and rape of a gas station/convenience store attendant in bozeman and concluding that all illegal aliens are rapists.

    Hard working law breakers, that’s exactly the kind of people we want in our country?

    Which kinds of criminality are ok? dope smoking? prostitution? Illegal immigration?

  • Goof, there are lots of statistical studies done on this kind of work as well, though, that prove the sorts of trends that this story nicely highlights. The problem isn’t with the immigrants themselves, they don’t want to be illegal, its with a system that makes illegal immigration just as easy and lucrative as legal immigration. Make immigration easier and you get rid of the “law breakers” part of your equation. We just get a bunch more hard-working people, which is what every country needs.

  • I’d prefer to make illegal immigration much harder and with much more severe consequences. Once we’ve got a handle on that, we can talk about our legal immigration policies.

  • Which might be as you say, needing to open up to a little more diverse group. That Missoula Independent story about the legal guest workers was horrific.

    We need to figure that out too.

  • “Once we’ve got a handle on that, we can talk about our legal immigration policies.”

    You make it sound like they are two different policies and two different problems. They are not. The number one cause of illegal immigration is a backlog in the legal immigration process. You have to fix them both at the same time.

  • I’d need proof of that. Yes, they are two different problems. And no, I don’t want to open the borders to all comers. Think of me as a “smart growth” guy.

  • I think we both want the same end–smarter immigration policy. We are just disagreeing about the path to get there. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate difference to discuss. I’m not a fan of opening the borders entirely either. “Smart growth” is a good goal, and I think it is good to get a lot of diverse opinions about how to achieve that end.

  • goof- stats show that illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, not more.

    America can handle plenty of legal, hard-working immigrants. We’re handling 12 million of them right now, we can handle more. We’ve got the space, and hard workers are hardly a drain on our economy.

    I think the sort of criminality that hurts no one, helps the economy and is merely illegal by virtue of paperwork is a kind we can forgive people for. Particularly when they can be made into non-criminals with the stroke of a pen.

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