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St. Helens' Danner Christensen writes about the dehumanization that occurs when politicians scapegoat undocumented residents as the cause of society's ills

"A time comes when silence is betrayal."

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Of late I've met a few Columbia County residents whom I admire deeply.

I am moved by the depth of warmth and love I see expressed in their families. Moved by the respect and warmth they show toward me simply because I am a fellow human being. Moved by how hard they work whenever they get the chance, mostly doing work for very low pay that American citizens refuse to do. Moved by their gratitude for what little they have, for their families, and for the smallest chance to improve their lives.

I write of those human beings living and working among us without official citizenship status. Most of them are from Latin America. They are "Latinx," a term that describes their heritage without reference to gender.

My experience stands in stark contrast to the political demagoguery unleashed against them in this country. Manipulative politicians call them rapists, murderers and drug dealers. They demonize them, scapegoat them and encourage their supporters to blame them for their own problems and ills. They convey subtle, unspoken permission to verbally harass and sometimes physically attack these human beings in retail stores and on public streets all over this country. It happens right here in Columbia County.

Many attempt to use the law as the underlying justification for the persecution of human beings. They don't have a legal right to be in this country, the justification goes, so they don't have the right to be treated with compassion and respect like other human beings who are citizens. History teaches us the dark dangers of such rationalization.

The law loses its moral force and legitimacy when it is used to erode and exploit humanity. The veneer of human civilization and empathy for other humans is frighteningly thin. We must never forget that the slaughter of 6 million Jews and 8 million other "undesirables" was completely legal under German law. In this country it was once legal to own other humans as slaves. Denying American women the right to vote was enshrined in law. Black people were legally forbidden the use of "Whites Only" drinking fountains and restrooms.

Given the results of the 2016 presidential election in Columbia County, I realize my opinion will not be popular with the majority of those who cast votes. But remaining silent in the midst of this dehumanizing behavior without protesting and condemning it is a betrayal. Silence conveys my acquiescence and tacit permission for it to continue. It is a betrayal of the principle that human beings deserve to be treated with a sense of humanity.

The persecution of these Latinx human beings foreshadows the dark depths of man's inhumanity to man that we have seen unleashed repeatedly throughout human history.

I have watched it grow in America with a knot in the pit of my stomach. My own silence is not completely soundless, for when I truly listen, I hear the faint echoes of sounds from the past. I hear the sounds of massive crowds roaring at torch-lit rallies. I hear the sounds of jackboots on cobblestone streets. I hear the sounds of shopkeepers' windows shattering in the dead of night.

Remaining silent in the midst of these echoes is no longer an option. Instead, I will choose humanity.

Danner Christensen lives in St. Helens.

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