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?
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.