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A Not-So-Warm Welcome from China and the United States

June 14, 2011

Listening To: “My Rights Versus Yours” – The New Pornagraphers, Challengers
Last year, one of my best friends spent the summer in China completing an internship. Part of his job was helping with multimedia for a film project, so his name was included in the credits for the film for the role he played in completing the piece. The film has recently been released, and the Chinese government is displeased with the contents and the creator of the movie because of the political ideas represented in the film, and the main person affiliated with the project has been detained by the Chinese government. This summer, my friend will be traveling back to China, but because of his connection with the film, there is concern that he, too, will be detained by the Chinese government, or that his Visa won’t be approved. So, my friend, a college student from the United States who wants to spend time in China in order to immerse himself in the culture, master the language, and be able to relate better to his extended family, is in danger if he chooses to travel to the country in which his parents grew up.

Sounds absolutely insane, right? But not really something we need to worry about – that’s just the actions of the Chinese government, the complete opposite of the government of the United States. The Chinese government is one that we, as citizens of the United States, can judge, demonize, and criticize for its controlling nature and lack of the same freedoms that the United States offers its residents. No one would be able to draw real comparisons between the governments of the United States and of China. Luckily, in the United States, we value freedom of speech, so any individual who wants to make any video can do so without repercussions, even if it throws a negative light on the United States. Right?

Enter the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. As discussed by Howard Zinn in his forward to the book Targeted by Deepa Fernandes, this law has “especially harsh provisions for foreign-born people” and put it into effect that “people could be put in jail or, if foreign born, deported, not for what they actually did, but for lending support to any group that the secretary of state designated as ‘terrorist’…Visas could also be denied to people wanting to enter the United States if they were members of any such group, even if the actions of the group the individual supported were perfectly legal.” These people are not granted the rights of due process and can be put in jail or deported without even knowing why, all based on “secret evidence.”

So that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In the United States, because of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, an individual can be put in jail or deported just for her association to a project with which the government disagrees, even if she has not personally done anything of concern. Like my friend and his concerns with China, an individual coming to the United States might be denied her Visa for her associations with a particular group.

It seems to be a perfect parallel between the two governments, which is surprising when it is evident that the majority of United States citizens would not aim to compare their own government with that of China. But the comparison is there, and it’s real. Our country has decided that it’s appropriate to target those who were born outside of the country and control the basic freedoms of these individuals, as well as those who are citizens of the United States. Suddenly, my friend’s situation isn’t some crazy idea that could only happen out where words like “communism” aren’t considered by the government to be four-lettered …an identical situation can happen to someone hoping to travel to the United States.

Suddenly the title of the song to which I am listening seems even more appropriate. The people of the United States need to look at the decisions of the United States government and ask when our democratic republic became a question of “my rights versus yours,” an arena in which the government takes away the right of the people to hold the power and protect their freedoms. All people are people, but the laws in effect have determined that yes, it is appropriate to declare that it is “my rights versus yours,” denying the Other the rights that all individuals should have, while jeopardizing the rights of US citizens. If this is the way that we treat the foreign-born, it is no wonder that Heston orientation focused on the issue of immigration, and that so many of us will be working in some form with the migrant and immigrant populations in Adams County. With the kind of “welcome” that they’ve been given, they can certainly use a lot of help.

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