Sui-Yi Paul Chang has been sentenced to one year in prison. What was his crime? Chang had poor legal and political representation, and he fed America’s fear of immigrants reducing this country’s whiteness.
Let me restate his case: In May last year, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials raided the restaurant of Paul and Chin Yin Chang at 1202 Chapala St. China Castle’s owners tried to hide the fact that they had seven illegal workers, three from China and four from Mexico. The Changs provided housing for two of the workers, both Chinese students. The judge regarded this as harboring and concealing illegal immigrants for profit. This was a reinterpretation of a little-used article of immigration law usually applied to human smugglers – people who transport illegal immigrants into the country for a hefty fee. This case became widely known only after November, when the couple entered into a plea agreement.
Paul Chang has received a particularly heavy blow because of his ethnicity and race. Indeed, his situation is a less pronounced instance of race affecting sentence. Mr. Chang is only the latest whipping boy for America’s fear of illegal immigrants flooding the country with nonwhite people, especially those who are Asian and therefore look “foreign.” The image of waves of immigrants taking over the country has taken its latest form in reporting on Chinese immigrants, such as front-page stories on illegal Chinese immigrants shipped into the United States and Britain. The fact that the judge personally equated housing of illegal immigrants with the smuggling of illegal immigrants supports this argument.
When it is convenient, the criminal justice system preys upon people with little political clout in order to use them as “examples.” Chang’s case can be compared with that of Linda Chavez, Bush Jr.’s former labor secretary nominee. Chavez admitted to knowing that the Guatemalan woman she sheltered in her house for two years did not have a green card. Because this woman did household chores for her, Chavez can, in theory, be put in prison under the same law that imprisoned Chang. Having ties to people in government, however, she would be unlikely to receive even a one-week sentence – if she were ever prosecuted at all. Chang, on the other hand, is a restaurant owner of modest means who is Asian and therefore seen as a person with relatively no political power. This follows the stereotype of Asians as quiet and passive people of color.
The “unjust” justice system of the United States disproportionately oppresses people who have few resources to protect themselves. Death row inmates are a clear example; statistics show a highly disproportionate snapshot of who gets shackled to the line for the electric chair. A Loyola Law School study in 1989 reported that about 90 percent of people placed on death row could not afford their own lawyers. As Justice William O. Douglas stated in the 1972 case of Furman vs. Georgia, “One searches our chronicles in vain for the execution of any member of the affluent strata in this society.” In other words, rich people don’t get the chair.
This shows justice is not blind. The U.S. legal system is stacked to protect certain people with more privilege – those with money, connections, or both.
If you too believe that this is wrong, come and say it at the rally being held downtown at noon TODAY at the post office on Anacapa and Canon Perdido. The focus will be a less severe sentence for Chang. Also, some will be there to say that there is a wider issue than merely this one injustice. Will you be one of them?
Thomas Weng is a sophomore pre-political science major.