"You shall not mistreat a foreigner or oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt." -Exodus 22: 21
If U.S. laws on immigration seem murky, the Bible seems clear. For a nation that touts its Christian bonafides and the strength of its melting-pot culture, booting folks from the country seems decidedly un-Christian and un-American.
In the case of Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, an area immigrant who has been detained for little more than simply being a "non-violent undocumented worker," he has been mistreated at least twice.
What may be even more frustrating is that the shabby treatment has been followed by an impenetrable silence from the federal government that would be impossible if it were happening to one of our citizens.
Here's what we mean: Because Orozco-Ramirez is an undocumented worker, the government doesn't have to provide much information about why he's being detained or what the process will be for deportation, leaving an entire family in limbo about their father.
If this were happening to a U.S. citizen, due process and other protections would make it nearly impossible for the federal government to be so silent. In other words, we are not treating the foreigner with the same justice that we would demand for ourselves. That reminds us of another biblical line -- something about loving our neighbor as ourselves.
And if any of these Bible verses mean anything to us, we must stand up for Orozco-Ramirez — not because of his status, but because of how he's been treated.
Orozco-Ramirez is undoubtedly an undocumented worker. No one — not even his attorney — is arguing that point. However, during his long tenure in America he's proven to be a hard-working, tax-paying resident who has raised a family here. Six of his children are U.S. citizens. In many ways, Orozco-Ramirez has demonstrated that he wants exactly what we want for ourselves -- a chance to work hard and raise a family. His crime is wanting the American dream. In a very real sense, his immigrant story mirrors the same experience as so many of ours.
However, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have refused to talk about why he's being detained. It appears that he's been singled out when there are literally thousands of other undocumented workers in the West. Why was Orozco-Ramirez singled out? Was he just an easy target? Was he taken because he routinely showed up at his scheduled appointments and therefore was convenient? Did he irritate authorities because a group like Billings Sanctuary Rising often came along with him?
A more likely scenario is that Orozco-Ramirez was an embarrassing reminder to the law enforcement community. After all, he prevailed in a lawsuit against Jefferson County in which he received a $125,000 settlement because he was raped in a county jail after being detained during a traffic stop.
We can't help but believe that Orozco-Ramirez is being punished because he had the audacity to report that he'd been raped while in custody of the county officials who should have protected him. If this were another case in which a rape victim was being singled out because he or she reported it, we'd be outraged. But once again because Orozco-Ramirez is an undocumented worker, his horrible treatment can be discounted, as if the rape didn't matter quite as much because he wasn't supposed to be here in the first place.
Meanwhile, his wife and children face an uncertain future. They are understandably reticent about speaking out for fear that it will just make it worse for their father and husband. And yet there's no escaping the fact that our government has a role in breaking up a family. However, we believe we're about to see the government break up many more families as it announced on Tuesday the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
If the government has a reason why Orozco-Ramirez deserved to be singled out and treated this way, then it has the obligation to say so. And residents should be outraged and concerned because if the federal government can round up a person and imprison them without a full explanation, then it puts everyone at risk for the same kind of questionable treatment.
Our Congressional delegation has remained non-committal on the issue, probably because it's fraught with political landmines. And that leaves Orozco-Ramirez with few voices to speak up.
But no one is questioning Orozco-Ramirez' status. We're questioning why he was whisked away and singled out? If that can happen to him, what's stopping the federal government from doing that to others? Are we really certain that a father who works a ranch job while trying to send his kids to school and college is really the biggest threat to American security?
We may be discussing walls on the Mexican border, but don't be fooled: One of the epicenters of the immigration debate could be right outside the federal building on Fourth Avenue North in Billings.