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An Open Letter to John Ashcroft For Sake of Balance: Deport Me

For Sake of Balance: Deport Me

by PRUDENCE CROWTHER

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

I write at a moment when we can perhaps agree the image of the United States generally has become an ugly graffito, defacing many of its most cherished ideals at home and around the world. I hope you may be susceptible, therefore, to a notion that, while discreet in its initial deployment, stands a reasonable chance of growing into a large and winning gesture, capable of quietly but surely helping to redeem our good name.

It seems to me whoever could devise a frank and even-handed method of demonstrating to people of the Muslim faith that the U.S. is not engaged in a crusade against them, as has been ecumenically charged, would deserve so well of the public (to borrow some earlier diction) as to have his name (for I know a graven image would offend you) celebrated for a preserver of the nation.

My suggestion is this.

The deportations from America of male Muslim immigrants, most from South Asian or Middle Eastern countries, ongoing since September 11, and the physical and civil-rights abuses commonly preceding them (insults now grossly revivified by the recent revelations from Abu Ghraib), along with the increasing repudiation of the war in Iraq by its own people–all undermine the claim, often professed by our President and you yourself, that our country is acting on behalf of free people everywhere.

Because the point of these deportations has remained secret, they are widely sensed to be frivolous, and therefore racially or religiously motivated. It is precisely this odor of discrimination I know we both believe we cannot afford, as a matter of pride and national security, if indeed our greatest asset is the vigor of our democracy. Domestically, there is the further question of how such constant and petty persecutions must degrade the character and morale of your employees, not to mention the burden imposed on the federal purse. All of these things we must remedy in any way possible.

I submit, then, for the sake of fairness, that for every Muslim male deported for no substantive reason (in other words, for reasons previously insufficient to warrant deportation), you also deport one person you deem to be as much unlike the target population as possible, considered in terms of profiling criteria.

To this end, so the Department of Justice may better imagine the tactic and to show good faith, I propose that you deport me: a white, heathen woman, who came into America through no tragedy or yearning or enterprise of my own, whose citizenship was conferred in the sport of my making, and who never had to sacrifice language or patria to pursue life, liberty, or happiness, hard enough to come by in any case.

And if the objection be made, that whereas the men who have been rounded up are at least guilty of infractions (however noncriminal) and I am guilty of none, I confess I am as guilty, and am certain have committed foibles in Connecticut, Kansas, California, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York City, where I now live (I volunteer the trail to spare your staff the nuisance of tracing it).

Where your Honor would send me, I leave to your discretion, although as a nod to self-reliance–another national value I can assume you would be eager to export–I offer to pay my way, since I can pay it (again, where most of my fellows cannot). And while they say if you look like your passport photo, you’re too ill to travel, I ask for indulgence there too.

But lest you suspect I myself am being frivolous in making this offer, I insist I would be exactly as devastated to be deported as those who have preceded me, for reasons I need not trouble you with, although forfeiture of even the simple liberty I have to compose this letter is not the smallest of them.

I can think of no objection to be raised against such a plan, unless it should be: it will only serve to double the cruelty involved in the present dragnet. This I freely concede. But let us talk of no other possibilities–of proscribing racial or religious profiling, of chastening our too ready self-regard, of repairing the hypocritical neglect of due process, of being fastidious not to exchange our consciences for a pottage of fear, of practicing to have even one degree of mercy toward the immigrants who have labored to come here–let no one bray about any of these expedients until he has a prayer they will ever be put into practice.

Finally, I declare I have no personal interest in this proposal, aspiring as I do to have no other home than Manhattan for myself, or for my issue, as I am past child-bearing.

Yours sincerely,
PRUDENCE CROWTHER

PRUDENCE CROWTHER is an editor and writer living in New York City.