“There are no conspiracies in this regard except the conspiracy of a system set in motion to operate like a time machine moving inexorably ahead. Thus we stereotype others and by our stereotypes create prisons that keep some in and others out” (Asante 2005; p. 31). Molefi Kete Asante stated media facilitates messages of dominant ideology. This is true about Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), which has been on air for over 25 years. Far from tackling sexual crimes and crimes involving children, the show confronts various issues that intersect with these crimes. One of the issues being immigration.
This clip is from the episode “Zero Tolerance” which aired October 4, 2018. Three of the main characters, Sergeant Tutuola (Ice T), and Detectives Rollins (Kelli Giddins) and Carisi (Peter Scanavino) are leaving the precinct after overcoming many legal obstacles to reunite an undocumented girl with her mother. They begin an exchange about immigrants and Sergeant Tutuola asks, “Who takes care of them once they get here?” He states that in the past immigrants did not receive free public services, implying that immigrants now receive these services and are depleting the system. His question illustrates immigrants as leeches of free social benefits. This is deceiving since undocumented immigrants do not receive many benefits due to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 (O’Shea & Ramón, 2018). Additionally, legal immigrants do not use any more benefits than citizens do (O’Shea & Ramón, 2018). His statement promulgates the narrative that immigrants are a drain to society, and therefore rhetorically placing them in “prisons” of this stereotype.
Tutuola adds “My people came here 300 years ago in chains and I still can’t breathe free.” He places the myth of the American dream up against the realities of racial inequality. If Black communities are continuously threatened today, how can we expect immigrants to be treated with humanity upon arrival? We need to address the oppressive system that places marginalized and racialized communities at a disadvantage, by first rejecting the harmful stereotypes of these communities.
Asante, M. K., (2005). Race, rhetoric & identity: The architecton of soul. Humanity Books.
O’Shea, T. & Ramón, C. (2018). Immigrants and public benefits: What does the research say? Bipartisan Policy Center.