Audemio Orozco-Ramirez has been living in the United States for 20 years, but he is not a citizen. He was born in Michoacan, Mexico. Although he has no criminal record, he was picked up as a passenger in a 2013 traffic stop, charged with a civil immigration violation and put in a jail cell with nine other men. There, according to a federal lawsuit he filed against Jefferson County, Orozco-Ramirez was held down and raped.
The county settled in December. Although it did not admit liability, it paid Orozco-Ramirez $125,000 in exchange for dropping the suit. Since then, he has checked in with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement each month—an arrangement common among "low-priority" illegal immigrants. During his last check-in, he was arrested and scheduled for deportation.
That's legal. Whether it's moral is another question.
Orozco-Ramirez came to the United States 20 years ago, and he did it illegally. Since then, he has lived an American life without any of the protections Americans enjoy. He obeys the law, but doesn't get to vote. He submits to the authority of government, but government can do as it pleases with him.
With one notable exception, Orozco-Ramirez has played by the rules. He has been coming to the ICE office for months, even though it made him vulnerable to deportation. He cooperated with officers, even though the one time he was asked to show his papers it got him forcibly sodomized. There are video cameras in the Jefferson County jail, but the footage from the hours when he was raped mysteriously vanished. Even still, he trusted American law enforcement.
More importantly, he participated in the social contract. He works. He has never been charged with a crime. He has raised a family here and, by all accounts, become a valued member of his community. If American society is a deal we all make together, Orozco-Ramirez has held up his end. In return for his cooperation, we will separate him from his family and send him back to a country where he hasn't lived since the 1990s.
I would invite the reader to imagine doing that to an American citizen, but there's no situation in which we would. A citizen wouldn't be raped in jail, given a six-figure settlement and then arbitrarily arrested nine months later, because the government can only arrest citizens who are charged with crimes.
ICE, on the other hand, arrests arbitrarily. It allows illegal immigrants to live in the United States, but reserves the right to deport them later. By not enforcing the law against "low-priority" aliens, it creates a permanent underclass of people like Orozco-Ramirezpeople who live here just like citizens, but who enjoy none of the same protections. The present administration's priorities underscore how unethical that arrangement is.
President Trump has instructed ICE to aggressively pursue deportation against undocumented immigrants, who made up 3.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2015. We think of them as people who don't really live here—people who crossed the border weeks ago, who go to work and return home without making friends, falling in love, starting families or participating in the larger community. But many of them are like Orozco-Ramirez. They have made their lives here. They are Americans in every way but one.
That one difference makes them vulnerable to the kind of abuses this country was founded against. In Orozco-Ramirez's case, it made him vulnerable to rape. It gave the U.S. government the power to separate him from his family and remove him from his home of 20 years. Living here that long didn't make him American, but a piece of paper would.
That system runs counter to logical and moral sense. It is illogical to argue that everyone born here has certain inalienable rights, but people without visas don't. It is immoral to say that I can move from New York City to Missoula and enjoy the same protections as everyone else on day one, but a man who traveled the same distance from Mexico doesn't deserve them after two decades.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay against Orozco-Ramirez's deportation while it reviews his case. One hopes that it will decide morally, but the law authorizes it to put him on a plane. When the law so directly conflicts with common decency, the law should change.
America was a place before the United States was a legal construct. The construct was founded on the principle that everyone in the place had the same rights, no matter who they were. Anyone who reads history knows it took us centuries to put that principle into meaningful practice. To read the news is to realize that we are still working it out.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture, and who gets inalienable rights at combatblog.net.