Magazine article The Nation

Wrong Defectors

Magazine article The Nation

Wrong Defectors

Article excerpt

When a Rumanian sailor jumps ship in Florida, the government gives him a hero's welcome as the day's defector from Communist tyranny. When a Ukrainian teen-ager would rather stay with relatives in Illinois than accompany his parents home, the U.S. authorities grant him resident refugee status. When a Soviet seaman dives to freedom in Louisiana and then decides to return to his grain ship, perhaps under threat of reprisals to his family or because his defection would deflate pre-summit diplomatic foreplay, powerful senators demand that he be given sanctuary.

No such welcome attends the arrival of thousands of victims of oppression in Central America who make their way to el Norte only to find sanctuary denied. They are not even afforded semantic haven as defectors, refugees or emigres; the government calls them illegal aliens, and charges those who help them with smuggling and "criminal enterprise." In the savage logic of Administration immigration policy, they have no human rights because they come from the wrong side of the ideological tracks: America's imperial client states to the south.

In Tucson, Arizona, government prosecutors are pursuing that logic, and the savagery, to extraordinary ends as they seek the conviction of eleven enterprising criminals accused of smuggling aliens into this country and giving them the sanctuary they do not deserve. The eleven include two Roman Catholic priests, a nun and a Protestant minister. Assistant United States Attorney Donald M. Reno is clearly worried that the presence of men and women of the cloth at the defendants' table could provoke an unhealthy sympathy for their cause among the jury. He has moved to deny the defense the right to make any political, religious or historical arguments in court; to give evidence on conditions in Central America, U.S. foreign policy or international law; or to introduce any testimony about moral or spiritual motivations. …

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