The immigration debate seems to be rushing forward on its own timetable—and without a structured frame to guide it, the effort is damaged from the start. As Rev. Luis Cortés, Jr., of Esperanza USA said during a call with media members yesterday, Democrats and Republicans are “running toward the harshest positions to show they can be the hardest on those who are the weakest.”
Worse yet, silence from the White House has left the stage empty for “Right wing and anti-immigrant groups to shape this conversation,” according to Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Now, “politics are driving policy” conversations, thanks to radical pundits, teabaggers, and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC).
On September 9, Wilson heckled President Obama during a joint session of congress. “It was the shout heard ’round the world (at least the country),” according to Versha Sharma of Talking Points Memo. What spurred this blatant display of hostility and disrespect? The President’s truthful statement that undocumented persons would not be covered as part of health care reform. Wilson has since apologized, albeit insincerely: He continues to appear before cameras to defend his outburst. Not only that, but Wilson has lied about his professional expertise: He was never an immigration lawyer, despite his claims to the contrary.
Oddly, the White House didn’t rebuke Wilson—it capitulated. The Washington Monthly reports that “The White House on Friday said it would bar illegal immigrants from purchasing health coverage through a proposed insurance marketplace,” a measure the author, Steve Benen, categorizes as “wildly unnecessary.” Obama won’t please the likes of Wilson even if he outlaws the Spanish language. Creating a roadblock to health care by “preventing people who are already here from buying their own insurance with their own money” will simply shift the debt to the public at large. The truth of the matter is that preventative and regular treatment is much less costly than emergency room visits, where all taxpayers will shoulder the cost. It’s a puzzling move that has already spurred strong reaction from groups like NCLR, America’s Voice and individuals like Cortés, who asserted in yesterday’s call that “Congress has lost its moral barometer.”
In a piece for New America Media, Marcelo Ballve calls Wilson’s outburst “quite appropriate,” in the sense that his words, intention and energy are harbingers of the coming debate about immigration reform. No matter the issue, no matter how civilly Democrats approach it, “Republicans, and not a few Democrats, will scapegoat illegal immigrants for many of the nation’s problems.” But is the White House prepared for a debate that is bound to be “even more rancorous than the bile-filled health care fight”? Given how rapidly the White House retreated in the face a red-faced liar, it’s an important question.
Continuing along their apparent strategy to meet political process with inanity, Republicans chose ex-Birther Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La) to respond to the President’s speech. Birthers are a fringe element of anti-Obama activists that claim the President was not born in the U.S. When questioned on his beliefs, Boustany initally replied that in terms of Obama’s citizenship, “I think there are questions, we’ll have to see,” but has since retracted his words. Once again, Republicans are feeding destructive and negative energies in a volatile political landscape, rather than working for change.
Channing Kennedy, writing for RaceWire, asks “Why is our conversation around immigration so often driven to extremes, both of language and of policy?” Highlighting another extreme use of language seemingly embedded in the immigration dialogue, the post features a video from Rinku Sen’s “Word” series, which touches on how the term Illegal, when used to referenced the undocumented, is a “gateway to racism and exploitation.” Sen has a question of her own: “What terrible, scary things have these people done to deserve having their entire being replaced by a single word?”
Sen touches on an important point: The conversation about immigation, a issue that is so far-reaching in our culture, has been ludicrously reduced to one-word epithets (Illegal) and playground diction (You lie!). This obscures the very complex and social issues that must be addressed if we are to consider ourselves a sane and modern society in the world. New America Media reports on the results of a study of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s detention process. The study, which was conducted by the Detention Watch Network, reveals what many feared: “We don’t know who’s detained or why, that they don’t have a release process, that they don’t track family ties or make legal immigrants available for alternatives to detention.” This is not acceptable.
Nor is it acceptable that humans who sacrificed their bodies and health to help dig Manhattan out of the toxic rubble in September 2001 are being ignored. In “Eight Years Later, Undocumented Ground Zero Laborers At Greater Risk,” New America Media reports on another tragic consequence of ignoring immigration reform. The undocumented laborers who worked at Ground Zero “are at greater risk of chronic health problems because they are excluded from federally funded programs to treat ground zero workers.” As Jose Loja, who cleaned pipes at the site says, “We’re all suffering from the same diseases.” And yet since our current take on the undocumented is that they deserve less than the rest of us, we don’t all suffer the same fate when struck by those diseases.
Nor are we to have a clear idea of who even makes up the current social body, if the rift between those who feel the undocumented should boycott the 2010 census and those who feel the idea is “insulting” or even “stupid” continues to grow. Nor will 30,000 Haitians who live here have their case heard for why “Undocumented Haitians Deserve to Stay Here.”
Until we address the needs of the immigrant community that lives in shadows that President Obama pledged to banish, people will continue to suffer. Until the White House steps up as boldly as Joe Wilson, who will guide the immigration discussion in a humane fashion? The national immigration dialogue, if delayed, will continue to degrade.
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