Santeria and Immigration

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I suppose it was only a matter of time before it came up. Outside of maybe abortion or gun control, one of the most contentious political issues in the United States (one that creates divisions in both major political parties) is how to handle the issue of illegal immigration from our Southern border. This simmering issue exploded recently when Arizona passed a controversial new law that allowed law enforcement to demand papers from anyone they “reasonably suspect” could be an illegal immigrant.  Since then, accusations of racismcalls for boycotts, promises to tackle immigration reform this year, and quiet adjustments to the law, have followed. While this controversy rages, the larger question of what immigration reform would/should look like is ongoing. Most pragmatic pundits and politicians (including George W. Bush) agree that some form of amnesty and path to citizenship should be provided to the millions of illegal immigrants already living and working in America, but that has also sparked violent (mostly rhetorical) push-back from the conservative base. Unfortunately, and why this issue is getting mentioned here, some of this push-back seems to be demonizing Santeria in an attempt to “poison the well” of public opinion for any plan that includes a path to citizenship (aka “amnesty”).

“Obama will make instant American citizens out of 20 million illegal aliens and encourage millions more to cross our borders. What does that mean for you and me?  For starters, he makes legal citizens of the 20 million illegal aliens now dwelling in America. They become US citizens—making them eligible for unemployment, food stamps, welfare, driver’s licenses, drug rehab … It means we’ll make citizens out of people who practice ‘santeria’ or animal sacrifice in city parks in Florida and along the East Coast. It means we’ll legalize people in our country that practice dog female genital mutilation, fighting, cock fighting and horse tripping. As their numbers grow, so will their voting power so they can vote their Third World rituals into law.”

Frosty Wooldridge, the writer of the editorial linked above, is hardly the only person to invoke Santeria in order to scare people out of supporting a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants already living here.

“I will provide you photos of “Santeria” worship with mutilated carcasses of animals in our community atop Mobile Homes. Further animal offenses including cock fighting and dog fighting abound as well in Saluda with these Illegals.”

I fear that the Santeria angle will become more prominent, especially when statistics point out that the illegal immigrants already living here aren’t some ravaging, murderous criminal horde. After all, Santeria is secretive and often misunderstood, and that combination prompts folks to ascribe anything they think might be animal sacrifice to them.

“So, let’s assume there was some religious purpose in this horror, a primitive and degraded upwelling that bullied its way into view. It’s pretty easy to judge, not so easy to live with. And there is no excuse.”

You see this confluence of fear and misinformation happen again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Despite the fact that most animal deaths, and random animal parts found in public parks, have nothing to do with Santeria or a related African diasporic religion. A fact that even the American SPCA acknowledges.

“According to experts, like local anthropologist and folklorist Dr. Eoghan Ballard, and Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of anti-cruelty services for the American SPCA, sacrificial remains found in parks, especially those adorned with talismans like candles or pennies, are most often the work of religious novices, teens or satanic dabblers.”

This blog won’t take a stance on the larger issue of immigration reform, but I will condemn any attempt to demonize Santeria in order to affect the political discourse over this issue. So should any person of conscience, no matter what your stance is on immigration. Santeria is a legal and recognized faith in this country, and animal sacrifice, while abhorrent to some, has been ruled a legal practice by our courts in two landmark cases. What one feels about Santeria should in no way influence whether illegal immigrants are granted a path to citizenship in reform legislation. Anyone who does engage in vilifying Santeria has lost the moral high ground for their arguments, and should be treated accordingly.

Note: I expect the comments to remain civil. This is not the place to get into a flame war over the issue of immigration.