Branded as a Criminal

Growing up I was always taught the moral wrongness of putting people into categories. That a person’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic class, or political orientation should not determine how you treat them.

Yet those who have committed a crime were never included on that list.

No one really discusses the rights of “criminals” and this is coming from someone who was raised by two lawyers. America as a whole has not yet come to a conclusion about the rights of those charged with a criminal offense. Yes, you have a right to an attorney, you are free from cruel and unusual punishment, you are free from double jeopardy, and so on, but then what? What rights do you have in jail and then which ones are afforded to you when you leave? Even the interpretation of the criminal justice amendments in the Bill of Rights are still debated in American politics, especially when charging those who are not U.S. citizens.

This ability to be so vague about the rights of those convicted of a crime allows for those found guilty to easily be put into categories. They are categorized as a criminal, a term with the connotation that they are dangerous and useless in society. Being a criminal is truly a scarlet letter today in America.

This fear of the “criminal” is used by the American government surrounding migration into the United States through the Mexican/ American border. First, by creating the image that these migrants are criminals. When migrants are caught they are charged with a criminal offense (while many other countries handle this offense administratively). Migrants are put in jails or detainment centers. When they are deported both their hands and feet are shackled. The entire process creates the image that people who have crossed the border illegally are criminals and in association bad for both American society and wherever they are deported to.

This visual categorization of migrants as criminals allows for them to be dehumanized because criminals are perceived as less than in society. However, like all categorizations, this is not a truthful portrayal. Many migrants are forced to look for a better life due to extreme violence and poverty. Like Father Peter Neeley said in his interview no one wants to migrate unless they have to.

Migrants are not criminals and they should not be treated like a danger to society. Just like any category, some fit into the stereotype prescribed to them, but most do not. There is no reason to brand these people. They are humans, with families, and unique backgrounds. This is why it is so important to put a face to an issue. We have no right to put anyone in a category as a way to simplify an issue, that is not justice.

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