Friday, July 24, 2009

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.
- St. Augustine

A visit to a Kansas congressional office in Washington, D.C. in March to lobby for immigration reform brought this idea home from St. Augustine. This representative (who is also now running for higher office in Kansas) has voted previously 1) to criminalize immigration violations, including visa overstays; 2) to take away birthright citizenship by being born in the U.S.; 3) against the Dream Act; and 4) for just about any other anti-immigrant legislation ever proposed.

Yet, in his office he was surprisingly warm and engaging (perhaps not so surprisingly considering he is an elected official). He seemed sympathetic.

“These are mostly good people,” he said. “But it’s a very complicated issue and there are no easy solutions.”

And then came the cop out.

“But we are a very generous country.”

Not that he had any intention of advocating any kind of generous position going forward. It seems like whenever someone is about to advocate a heartless position, utterly lacking in compassion or grace, they start talking about how generous we are as a country.

After all, we admit a handful of refugees every year, etc. So whatever failings we might have in compassion and justice, it’s all o.k., because, after all, we are “generous.”

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.
- St. Augustine

I have to say this is true. People will put up with a lot of poverty and hardship. But injustice? No.

Is the failure to consider immigration reform a lack of charity, or a lack of justice? It is unjust to reap the fruits of people’s labors, and not dignify them with status. It is unjust to exact punishment, such as permanent banishment from home and family, for minor immigration infractions. It is unjust to abuse workers with impunity because they are powerless and without status. It is unjust for honest employers to have no legal options to recruit foreign workers when no U.S. workers are available. It is unjust for asylum seekers to be detained indefinitely, then deported to a country where they face persecution without the opportunity to see a judge. It is unjust for family members to have to wait decades to join their relatives in the U.S. It is unjust for foreign professionals to wait for years and years to fight their way through the legal green card process only to be denied because of a lost job or minor immigration status violation. It is unjust for hard working compassionate immigrants, documented or not, to be labeled as criminals and vilified by persons whose only claim to superiority is the accident of their birth in the U.S. I could go on.

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.
- St. Augustine

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lobby Day in DC

Example of what it is like to lobby for immigration reform in Missouri and Kansas. This is an approximation of an actual dialogue on lobby day with a congressional office in Washington, DC. The rep’s office will remain nameless (although there are no innocents being protected here).

We enter the office and are greeted lukewarmly by a young staffer probably in his late 20’s. I will be the Q. and the staffer will be the A.

Q. We are here to talk about comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama mentioned the need for it very forcefully in his Town Hall speech last night in California. Also, Speaker Pelosi and majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, have indicated that immigration reform is at the top of their legislative agendas. Some are saying we may see specific proposals on this by this Fall. What do you think?

A. The Congresswoman does not support amnesty for those who have broken our immigration laws.

Q. O.K. What do you mean by amnesty? President Obama said that he would require persons seeking a path to legalization to pay back taxes, learn English, pay a fine, and get in the back of the line. Is that amnesty?

A. Yes. If someone has broken the immigration laws of our country and is here illegally, they should have to leave.

Q. For how long? Can they come back?

A. No, we do not support amnesty.

Q. What if a person is here illegally, but has married a U.S. citizen and has five U.S. citizen children? And what if that spouse and those children, all U.S. citizens, will have to go on welfare if their sole breadwinner is deported, never to return?

A. We do not support amnesty.

Q. So is any return to the U.S. considered amnesty by you, no matter how much of a fine or penalty they pay?

A. We do not support amnesty. Yes, if they are allowed to stay after breaking our immigration laws, that is amnesty.

Q. So under your definition of amnesty, anything short of permanent banishment from the U.S. is amnesty. Have you ever received a speeding ticket?

A. No.

Q. Have you ever exceeded the speeding limit, but not caught – even one mile over the speeding limit?

A. Yes, of course.

Q. Then aren’t you a criminal driver? Do you think an appropriate punishment should be permanent revocation of your driver’s license? Or perhaps permanent banishment from this country and your family? Does that make sense?

A. That’s not the same thing.

Q. Well, do you know what the criminal penalty is for entering this country without authorization? It’s a $250 fine – about the same as a speeding ticket. Does that sound like the kind of “crime” that warrants permanent banishment from family and country?

A. We do not support amnesty.

Q. Although I don’t think this qualifies as amnesty, let me suggest an example. A few years ago, Rush Limbaugh was caught in a federal drug felony. Do you remember that?

(I could tell he did. He started getting red in the face and obviously irritated. I should explain that at this point I had abandoned any idea of persuading him to change his mind. It was obvious that he couldn’t really go beyond his talking point of “no amnesty” and I shifted to my "make him feel guilty and/or foolish” mode. And by the way, Rush Limbaugh was from his district, Cape Girardeau.)

Q. Rush was caught in this felony drug crime. He’s a drug criminal and could have gone to prison. But instead, he reached a plea agreement, paid a large fine and was on probation for a long time. It was a win/win situation. The prosecutors could avoid the expense and delay of a trial and Rush got to avoid jail. This is something, by the way, that happens every single day in our justice system.

So Rush didn’t have to go to jail – the punishment that our federal laws required. The question is, did Rush get amnesty for his drug crime?

A. No, that’s not the same thing.

Q. Why not?

A. We don’t support amnesty?

Q. So you support amnesty for Rush but not for some poor migrant worker who crosses a border to find a job and has U.S. citizen children and a U.S. citizen spouse that will be irreparably harmed if he is deported from the U.S.?

A. We don’t support amnesty.

Q. My impression of your representative was that she was pro family.

A. Yes, we are very pro family.

Q. Really? Did you know that in the past ten years we have deported from the U.S. over 100,000 parents who left behind U.S. citizen children and U.S. citizen spouses? What do you think that did to those families? Did you know that according to the Urban Institute, one out of every ten children in the U.S. is in a mixed status family? That is, they have one or more parents that are not documented in the U.S. So, if their parents are deported, that will destroy a lot of families. Do you think this is a good result?

A. We are very pro family.

(At this point, it was painfully clear that the cognitive dissonance of maintaining in one breath “no amnesty” and in the next that he is “pro family” simply did not register for him. In reality, the primary principal was “no amnesty” regardless of what human damage it does.)

Q. So exactly whose families are your supporting? Not these poor families. You take this “no amnesty” position despite the fact that what we are talking about with immigration reform is not amnesty at all, and the only alternatives involve either an unacceptable status quo, or incredible human misery and huge expense to the government in trying to deport these poor people. Do you know that it has been estimated to cost over $200 billion to try to deport about 10 million undocumented people in the U.S. And what do you get in the end? Destroyed families, messed up economy and no appreciable benefit to anyone -- the U.S. or the alien. Do you think that is a good result and a good expenditure of taxpayer money?
A. We don’t support amnesty.

Q. Then you don’t really care to act in the national interest, do you?

A. (standing up) Thank you for coming.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Immigrant Voter Fraud; Fun on Election Day

Election day had beautiful weather here in the Midwest. As I was standing in line to vote, an older man in front of me began chatting with me. We talked about the weather, and that was about it. He didn't know what I do and I don't know what he does. All of a sudden, totally out of the blue, he says disgustedly "you know there are about 100,000 illegal aliens in this area, and every one of them is going to vote today." I suppose that he thought, me being a middle aged white guy and all, that I would agree with him on this observation.

I was stunned. So stunned that I immediately shot back, "no they aren't. Why would they do that? Why would they risk being detected and arrested by voting when they are trying to hide out here? You know, they will have a permanent bar to the U.S. if they falsely claim to be U.S. citizens. There is absolutely no evidence of illegal voting by undocumented immigrants."

I think he was a little stunned at my response and muttered something like, "well, I don't know." And then neither of us spoke to each other the rest of the awkward time we stood in line. We went to our separate booths and doubtless voted our separate ways.

We had not been talking about immigration or politics or anything that would have ellicited such a statement. I even looked at my clothes to see if I was wearing some kind of button or something that gave me away. I wondered if he had seen bumper stickers on my car or something, but I don't see how since I had to park a couple of blocks away, etc.

Then I saw it. A 20 something Asian man placed his ballot in the box and walked out the door. Maybe my line friend assumed that because this guy (who for all we know was born in the U.S.) looked Asian, he must be an illegal alien.

I kept wondering, where does this come from? Was this just some random ignorant bigotry coming out in what he thought must be a welcoming environment? Surely this couldn't be a widespread serious belief. Then a couple of days ago I saw that local hero Kris Kobach was going to run for office again, probably for attorney general or secretary of state in Kansas. His supporters cited as their concerns that the current state administration wasn't doing enough to guard against voter fraud by illegel immigrants.

This from the Joplin Globe:

"Many of Kobach’s fellow conservative Republicans question whether the state is doing enough to prevent illegal immigrants from voting. Incumbent Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, also a Republican, has said there’s no evidence of significant problems."

Of course, the lack of evidence is no barrier to those who want to blame undocumented persons for every problem they see in the country. Unfortunately, this is just more demagoguery against a voiceless group.