Many people have written blog posts about the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. I have read a countless number of these posts, and a countless number of articles. Many people have spoken on behalf of Zimmerman, Martin, the white community, or the black community. However, instead of right and wrong, black and white, just and unjust, I would like to speak on behalf of a lesser known group: the vulnerable people in our society.
The most vulnerable people in our population are the sick, the tired, the poor, the young, the black men, the pregnant women, and the undocumented immigrants. In the Trayvon Martin case, the prosecuting attorney was protecting the rights of one of society’s most vulnerable: the young, black man.
When I first heard about the case, I immediately imagined what it would have been like if Zimmerman was black. I then imagined what it would have been like if Martin was white. Then I wondered, what if Martin, Zimmerman, or the only witnesses were immigrants without status?
Imagine if Zimmerman had been an undocumented immigrant. It would not matter if he was simply “standing his ground.” There would still be a possibility of deportation, especially if he did not have an attorney who specialized in immigration law. If an undocumented immigrant cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints an attorney, just as if a person with legal status was put on trial. However, court-appointed defense attorneys are often unfamiliar with immigration law. These attorneys often treat undocumented immigrants as if they are citizens, negatively affecting the person’s likelihood of achieving legal status and avoiding deportation. As a result, even if the undocumented immigrant version of Zimmerman was declared not guilty, it is possible ICE would be contacted to remove him, even if he were acquitted.
Furthermore, if an undocumented immigrant had witnessed the crime, he or she would possibly be too afraid of deportation to come forward. Many undocumented immigrants who witness a crime or who are victims of a crime are reluctant to come forward because they fear exposure to authorities. Occasionally, undocumented immigrant witnesses may qualify for a U visa, which would allow them to stay in the U.S. There are also other means of legal protection for undocumented immigrant witnesses. However, both the U visa and other legal protections for undocumented immigrant witnesses are difficult to qualify for and rare. As a result, if an undocumented immigrant had come forward as a witness in the Zimmerman-Martin case, he would be at risk of possible deportation, especially if he did not qualify for a U visa or another form of legal protection.
If Martin had been an undocumented immigrant, he would have been a part of one of the groups most discriminated against by our justice system. Undocumented immigrants do not have many rights. Even if they are not convicted, they still deal with the possibility of deportation. Undocumented immigrants who are victims of a crime are sometimes protected by the U.S. government and are allowed to apply for legal status. Victims of crimes may also qualify to apply for a U Visa, which would allow them to stay in the US, as long as they meet the requirements for the visa.
However, there are only 10,000 U visas available per fiscal year. As a result, if all 10,000 U visas are filled, as they were in the first week of Sept. 2013, Martin would have to wait until the following fiscal year to reapply, starting on Oct. 1, 2013. This increases the time Martin would have to live without legal status in the U.S.
These examples reveal the immense vulnerability of the undocumented immigrants in our society. Martin’s case was an example of how racism continues to infiltrate our justice system. His case is also one of the reasons why we as a society need to protect the most vulnerable in our midst, including not only young black men, but also undocumented immigrants.
When the Trayvon Martin case went to trial, many of us—myself included—felt powerless to affect the outcome. Trayvon’s life was already lost, and the Stand Your Ground laws were already set. However, the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our society still need to be protected, and this time, we are not powerless. The laws can still change, and lives can still be saved. If enough people speak out, change will come to Washington.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” —Proverbs 31:8-9.
Carissa VanHaitsma is a senior at Calvin College, where she majors in Sociology and Writing. She hopes to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work over the next two years and then continue in policy and advocacy work. Carissa also works for the Office of Social Justice in the Christian Reformed Church. Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated. We are always looking for new guest bloggers. If you are interested in writing a guest blog, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.