Cause of Death: Sanctified Institutional Racism

The kind of right-wing anti-immigration bile that CNN commentator Lou Dobbs spews regularly is closely aligned with an organization called The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has ties to extremist white supremacist groups, according to the SPLC‘s latest Intelligence Report. This is an important connection to document for establishing the links between extremist expressions of white supremacy and the more mainstream, CNN-versions of the same ideas. I’ve suggested these connections in my own work, but there’s not enough done documenting and explaining these linkages. And, lest you think that this sort of thing is only relevant for scholarly discussions about discourse, there’s a story out of Phoenix recently about the death of 18-year-old Joe Arvizu that reminds us all of the relevance of this sort of rhetoric for people’s daily lives. From The Arizona Republic (hat tip to Jesse Wendel of the Group News Blog for bringing this to my attention):

And so the good nuns who run a local hospital – one dedicated to “serving and advocating for our sisters and brothers who are poor and disenfranchised” – did what we do anymore. They packed him up and shipped him off to Mexico – and, as it turns out, to his death.

Jose Abraham Arvizu had the rotten luck to be born about an hour on the wrong side of the border. He and his family came to Phoenix on visas 3½ years ago. His mother, Rosa, told me she and her husband wanted better for their four children than to scratch a life out of the dust. So they stayed.

Joe, as he was called by his friends and teachers, went to North, where he learned English, passed the AIMS test and embraced school life. Even those who didn’t know him knew who he was. He was easy to pick out at school functions, after all. He was the one carrying the American flag.

On Oct. 19, Joe was horsing around with friends at church when he bumped his head. It quickly became clear that something was horribly wrong, and he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, where he underwent surgery the next day to stop the bleeding in his brain.

On Oct. 21, Rosa learned that her son had leukemia, but doctors assured her that he would be OK. His chance of recovery, she said, was put at 85 percent.

Five days later, Joe was packed into an ambulance and sent to a hospital in Mexico.

“They said they knew that we couldn’t pay the bill, so they couldn’t continue with the treatment anymore,” Rosa said, through a translator. “I asked for a payment negotiation, but they said that no, we couldn’t make it with the income we have. I didn’t want to make any decision by myself, but they told me the ambulance was ready.”

Over his mother’s objections, Joe was taken first to a hospital in Agua Prieta, then transferred to one in Hermosillo. His mother followed the next day while his father, a bricklayer, stayed behind with their other children.

Joe died on Dec. 3. Rosa couldn’t supply the hospital with blood for a needed transfusion.

The hospital officials involved have a certain amount of plausible deniability here that racism was involved; instead, they insist that it was business as usual. But, in this case, business as usual results exclusively in the deaths of brown-skinned kids, not white-skinned kids, and that, my friends, is pretty much the definition of institutional racism. Under the heading of “less-deniable” is the marked upswing in racially motivated violence against all Latinos, regardless of immigration status, according to the SPLC Intelligence Report:

According to hate crime statistics published annually by the FBI, anti-Latino hate crimes rose by almost 35% between 2003 and 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available. In California, the state with the largest population of Latinos in the country, anti-Latino hate crimes almost doubled in the same period.

Of course, it’s impossible to establish anything like a causal link between the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and the rise in anti-Latino hate crimes, but it’s a pretty damning correlation. And, deaths of immigrants like Joe Avrizu are testimony to the fact that no one needs to be a foaming-at-the-mouth extremist for institutional racism to operate. All you need are pundits to run the ideological justification department, and some petite bureaucrats to operate the machine, and both are all the more effective if they think they’re doing the Lord’s work, as Dobbs suggests in this commentary from CNN back in May, 2007 in which he first quotes a Bible verse from Romans about “Everyone must submit himself [sic] to the governing authorities,” then supports his neocon exegesis with polling data:

A Zogby poll last year asked churchgoers if they supported the House bill that would make illegal aliens return home and reduce future illegal immigration by securing the border and performing checks on illegal employers. Seventy-five percent of Protestants responded that was a good or very good idea, 77 percent of born-again Christians also agreed, and 66 percent of Catholics also backed tougher enforcement measures.

So, I guess from Lou Dobbs’ perspective, the nuns who run the hospital that deported Joe Avrizu really were on God’s errand when they shipped him back to Mexico to die. That’s what I’d called sanctified institutional racism. It’s not always the case that religion is on the side of repressive political regimes; in fact, there’s a long history of liberation theology tied to social justice movements, including the civil rights movement in this country.  However, when ordinary people are convinced that they are engaged in doing “God’s work,” or pursuing any “great good,”  it makes it that much easier to continue to operate the banal machinery of death camps  and deportation.


  1. James T. Smith

    About 80% of the suspects in those anti-Latino hate crimes are blacks. Who knew Lou Dobb’s had such a following in the African American community? Also, in California most anti-black hate crimes are commited by Latinos. Who knew “nativists” had such a following among Latinos? It almost makes you think that white people’s “angry rhetoric” has nothing to do with what’s going on.

  2. Jessie Author

    The white person’s “angry rhetoric” in question here is Lou Dobbs, and I’d agree it has very little to do with what’s actually going on, except for the ideological function it serves shoring up Bush & Co.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    I have to say—Jesse didn’t just hit the nail on the head here (and the other posts too)…but this one slammed, shattered, demolished and totally obliterated it. (Thoroughly well done and in the finest taste and choice of descriptive words—sort of grungish, haha, like it) There’s just no excuse at all for things like this to happen to anybody and the U.S. should be completely ashamed with these types of stories, and its history. How anybody in this nation can sleep at night with a clear conscious leaves me in complete awe. I mean is it really the case that people just kick over a check to their favorite charity(s), pat themselves on the back, and actually suppose they made a difference or did their part? Believe their donation is actually being used for the advertised purpose? Just cut a check and clear the conscious—stay safe in that sterilized, privileged, segregated world of bliss. And I think it is a crime to block healthcare and other any other opportunities or benefits for anybody who does not have U.S. citizenship or residency—especially when the training, knowledge, and resources are right there. We all have an equal responsibility to care for all of our children in this nation to the best of our ability, and people too throughout their life course—regardless of skin color, citizenship, beliefs, etc. As much as religion in general drives me crazy—I appreciate the point about Liberation Theology…if the world were filled with Liberation Theologists??? Ahhhh *my jaded heart softens and gets all warm, fuzzy, and mushy inside* In a strange or perhaps counterintuitive way, I picture John Lennon’s song “Imagine” being solidified into a global reality when I think of that. 😀 Our babies, children, adolescents, adults—why don’t we love and embrace them all and value, appreciate, and protect the differences and diversity rather than silence, punish, and/or destroy them? (I understand the several potential answers—but even then, I still find my self asking why?)

Leave a Reply