immigration reform

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An Open Letter to Senator Sanders

Dear Senator Sanders,

I want to start off by saying I’m rooting for you. Ideologically, you and I are a match, and I trust you and your record more than Secretary Clinton’s. Though there are those who worry you won’t be able to govern, I don’t buy that line of argumentation. You’ve proven yourself adept at getting things done in an increasingly partisan Congress, and if you can continue to inspire progressive enthusiasm in a way Clinton is struggling to replicate, your down ticket impact could usher in a Congress that will support your agenda.

But that’s a big if.

I do think it’s possible. One need only take a gander at your meteoric ascent to see that you’re gaining traction in a way no one would have predicted a year ago. Your message about economic inequality is resonating among voters whose economy has been decimated by those who cared not for the issue. Your proposals on the subject are imperfect, but they’re leaps and bounds ahead of what’s offered by the rest of the field in terms of substance. What’s more, people believe you when you say you’re going to wage war against those who have long propped up a rigged system.

The problem is that the tunnel vision that propelled you to such heights has now become a liability. You are correct when you say that economic inequality impacts individuals from all walks of life, but in an era that has been distinguished by a rise in identity politics, this narrow brand of intersectionality is insufficient. And as I watch you approach subjects related to identity politics, this becomes glaringly obvious.

It is not that there is some massive gap between you and Secretary Clinton on reproductive rights. I have no doubt that both of you would veto anti-choice legislation brought forth by Congress and nominate justices to the Supreme Court who would uphold a woman’s right to choose. But that’s only part of the picture.

Beyond the actual responsibilities and powers of the presidency, women are looking for you to lead on such subjects. They don’t want one line in a stump speech. They want you to passionately affirm and defend their reproductive rights, because we’re in the midst of the greatest assault on a woman’s right to choose since Roe v. Wade. 

Even if you’re just a candidate, your voice has power as a result of your support. So use it. Take some of that rage directed towards Wall Street and direct it toward anti-choice proponents in state legislatures and Congress. Encourage your progressive brethren to do the same by setting an example. Make it loud. Make it bold. Prove to us that you’ll do more than play defense. Prove to us you’ll lead.

It’s not that I think you’re less likely to stand up for black lives than Secretary Clinton. Indeed, the Secretary’s record on race is rather spotty, and if we judge you by your history alone, your record on the subject is much better. But falling back on your actions during the Civil Rights era is not enough. When you respond to questions about race by deflecting to the economy and saying “everyone” is impacted by it, it sounds like a variation of “All Lives Matter.” You’re right; everyone is impacted by the economy. But individuals, and particularly women, of color are impacted in a disproportionate manner, and you can’t even muster an acknowledgement of that.

Your “we’re all in this together” rationale on race has problems outside of the economic conversation. Racial inequity extends far beyond dollar signs. It’s about schools in communities of color without the resources necessary to give kids a fair shot. It’s about discrimination in housing and hiring. It’s about a criminal justice system where black individuals are far more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested and convicted of the same crime while facing far stiffer penalties. It’s about the cycle of oppression that repeats again and again when these distinctive experiences are not explicitly recognized. And for years, that’s exactly what’s happened.

When you talk about white people deserving reparations too and start counting how many times you say the word “black” at a given event and fall back on the fact that some black people have endorsed you, you could not possibly sound more tone deaf. I’m glad you’re meeting with black leaders to discuss the issues, but it doesn’t seem like you’re growing much from those conversations. You can’t just say you’re going to improve race relations. You can’t just lump black issues into policies that benefit all lives. You have to engage in critical conversations about policies that will address the significant issues facing people of color in this country.

Again, this is about leadership. Too often, black voices are assimilated into general progressive rhetoric. If Ferguson and the subsequent tragedies have taught us anything, it’s that this approach isn’t going to cut it. So do better. Be better, Senator. You need to listen more and listen some more after that. Don’t just look for ways to address black concerns from within your existing platform. Start looking for ways to directly address those concerns, because such solutions are just as necessary as your proposed broad reforms, if not more so. Start acknowledging the validity of the concerns of people of color in a public and unequivocal manner. Don’t shy away from the calls for change and reckoning by relying on platitudes. As you have in the past, boost the voices of leadership within these communities. Use your privilege to do some good. I know you know how to do that. Get back to your roots.

You’ve been floundering on immigration, as well. I appreciate your dedication to keeping families together, I really do. I like the path to citizenship. I’m totally with you on your calls for better treatment of immigrant workers. As Sam Frizell put it, you have, “checked all the boxes for a Democratic presidential candidate” when it comes to immigration reform. But your framing of the issue is increasingly problematic.

There’s a reason that conservatives like Representative Steve King and Numbers USA president Roy Beck sing your praises on immigration. It’s because you’ve couched your conversations on immigration reform in the rhetoric of “protecting American workers.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with that sentiment on face, but when it’s put in the context of immigration reform, it’s a perpetuation of the myth that undocumented immigrants are “stealing” jobs from Americans and function as a drain on the economy. Indeed, you’ve said in the past that, “We should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled to workers to compete with [unemployed] kids.”

Not only are the assumptions behind such comments demonstrably untrue, but this whole approach ignores the experience of documented and undocumented immigrants alike. They are not just faceless contributions to figures bandied about in political debates. These are real people who face unique struggles and fears. The sooner you start acknowledging that in your platform and on the stump, the better. Right now, you often sound callous.

Once more, this is about leadership. Your policies may be net beneficial, but without compassionate promotion, they are not enough. It’s not just about citizenship. It’s about widespread discrimination and often violence against those who are even perceived as immigrants, regardless of whether they are citizens or not. Those struggles deserve attention as well. You are in a position to not only push for effective reform, but reshape the conversation surrounding such reforms. And that’s important, because one without the other falls short in a major way. Put a human face on a policy problem and it changes the way we approach it. The immigrant population in this country deserves that. This is your chance to rise to the occasion.

Are you seeing the common thread yet, Senator? We need you to lead. We need you to be our champion, to wield your influence in a way that aids those on the ground who are fighting the good fight. We need you to not only know there’s a problem, but understand it. On so many issues, your policies are admirable. But what weakens those policies and causes a disconnect between you and the voters is a seeming erasure of the inherent human element of the problems you’re trying to tackle. You are paying lip service on a surface level to deep and complex issues that manifest in individual experiences. We need to feel like you care, and right now, it’s hard to feel the bern on that note.

Again, I’m rooting for you. I trust your experience and the judgment you’ve shown throughout your years of public service. But it’s hard to be an enthused supporter when I’m watching people I love and respect have their very real pain excluded from the conversation you’re leading. This is not about a fight between you and Hillary. It’s about a fight for our votes — point blank. If you want to earn the support you need to grab the nomination and make it to the White House, you’re going to have to do better.

Hopeful in Illinois,

Lauren Nelson

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The Real Reason to Fear the Toupee

Listen, there are a lot of laughable figures insisting they’re the right person for the job of President of the United States. The GOP field right now is an absolute circus, and there’s no doubt that the upcoming debates will be an unmitigated disaster — both for who is and who is not on the stage.

But there is one candidate who announced today that takes absurd to a whole new level. He’s got more money than God, hair that would make angels weep, and a way with words that basically makes me ill. If you haven’t figured out who I’m talking about yet, well…

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Wooh, buddy. Fasten your seat belts.

It’s not just that Trump is running; he’s done this five times before. And it’s not just that he’s a cartoon character entirely unsuited to lead the country. No, it was the way in which he announced that really made today a special one. In true Trump fashion, he decided he didn’t need any fancy speechwriters or strategists helping him out on the big stage. Instead, he decided to wing it.

That went about as well as you might expect. It was one of the single most incoherent pieces of garbage I’ve ever laid eyes on, frankly. At first, the prospect of off the cuff remarks had me reaching for popcorn, but the humor started to fade as Trump started in on building a large wall along the Mexican border. I snickered at his proposal, but then he said this:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

My mouth hung open for a moment, trying to process what he’d just said. Had I heard him wrong? Was there some misunderstanding? He couldn’t possibly have said what I think he did, right? Not as a presidential candidate for one of the major parties in the U.S. No way. Right?

Wrong. That was exactly what he had said, and really, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. As just a more recent example of his racism, at CPAC last year, Trump spent time warning Republicans not to pursue immigration reform. Do that, he reasoned, and you’d shoot yourself in the foot electorally, because immigrants would never vote for the GOP.

And don’t get him started on “anchor babies.”

It shouldn’t have been surprising, but to hear him speak those words made my stomach turn. To argue, in a nation with more than 40 million immigrants living in it, that immigrants are all rapists and drug dealers is about as tone deaf as one can get. And I say this less than a week after Jeb! doubled down on the idea that hetero nuclear families are the only ones that should raise kids. It’s that bad.

Jeb! and his PR team have gotta be breathing a deep sigh of relief right about now.

It’s also a startlingly disgusting comment given his company in the field. To cast all immigrants as criminals when you have multiple candidates running in the same race as you who come from families of immigrants… it’s inconceivable to me that he’d think that was even remotely appropriate. Could you imagine if Hillary had gone on a rant about the violent tendencies of Black people in the ’08 election?

Rubio really should pick this one up and run with it. He likely won’t. Jeb! would be in a good position to call Trump out as well, but he’s a little preoccupied with his own punctuation at the moment. Realistically though, most of the GOP field is trying to play nice until they can figure out who’s going to be up on the debate stage in a few months. Nobody wants the final candidate to come out as bruised and battered as Romney did. That means you have a whole party of presidential contenders who will do little more than collectively shrug at one of their compatriot’s vile racism. It’s enough to make your mind implode.

But that whole debate thing is the real sticking point here. In election cycles past, comments like these from Trump would have produced a flare of anger in me followed by the relief in knowing that the man isn’t a serious contender. Unfortunately, with the size of the field this year and the necessary pruning of the debate stage, Trump is in a position to make the GOP very scary indeed. As Politico reports:

Fox News, the sponsor of the first Republican debate, has said that candidates who finish “in the top 10 of an average of the five most recent national polls, as recognized by Fox News leading up to August 4th at 5 PM/ET,” will be included in the primetime debate at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

And where might the pleasant Mr. Trump fall in those rankings? As of right now, looking at Real Clear Politics’ aggregations, he’s in the nine slot:

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The fact that he has the support of even 3.6% of a fraction of registered voters is horrifying, but his presence on the debate stage has the potential to push candidates that would otherwise at least have the possibility of engaging in a productive, substantive debate of the issues to the far, far right. As the Washington Post points out:

Donald Trump will say almost anything to get a rise out of people. He is in the entertainment business, a professional provocateur of some renown. The business he is not in, of course, is politics.

That’s a big problem for a party desperately working to prove it is ready, willing and able to take the reins of government back from Democrats. The most important thing for Republicans to accomplish in this debate season is to show they are serious about governance and have ideas on how to do things better than Barack Obama has done over the past eight-ish years. It’s why Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus moved very early in the 2016 race to limit the number of debates and to have a much more active role in choosing who gets to host them. He wants to put the best face of the Republican Party forward.

Trump has the potential to blow up those well-laid plans. He will interrupt, bully and seek to dominate the debate in ways that will make it impossible to get a word in edge-wise. And, if past is prologue, the sorts of things he does say when he gains control of the debate floor will be stuff that appeals heavily to the Republican base and turns off, well, almost everyone else.

Take a moment to process what I’m saying here. Donald Trump — a man known for his bigotry — is one of the top ten GOP presidential hopefuls. If the trend continues, he will be part of the debates intended to help GOP primary voters decide with whom they want to cast their lot. The Republican Party has already swung extremely far to the right, but Trump’s presence is likely to push them even further off the rails in order to maintain favor with the extremist base that controls primary results. And all over a candidate that never stood a chance to begin with.

The risk is not that Trump is the last candidate standing. The threat is what he could do in shaping that last candidate, and what that means for the election as a whole.

Never has a man in a toupee been so terrifying.

The No-Brainer AP Decision: It’s Not About Politics

The Associated Press is getting with the times. After defending the inclusion of the term “illegal immigrant” as appropriate as recently as October, they’re doing an about face. As they clarified on their blog today:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living inor entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alienan illegalillegalsor undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

My first reaction was to cheer. I guess I sort of anticipated I’d see the same tone reflected in my Twitter feed. Except… I didn’t. I did see a fair amount of mocking of the rule change, so I started perusing the stream of tweets specific to the topic across the Twitterverse. A sampling:

Tweets on "illegal immigrant" AP Change

Ok, so some of this is to be expected, given the sources. But let’s be clear:

THIS IS NOT ABOUT “NOT OFFENDING” INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE IMMIGRATED HERE ILLEGALLY.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT TAKING A STAND ON IMMIGRATION REFORM. 

THIS IS ABOUT THE FACT THAT NO INDIVIDUAL IS INHERENTLY “ILLEGAL.”

THIS IS ABOUT THE FACT THAT NO INDIVIDUAL IS INHERENTLY WORTH LESS THAN ANOTHER INDIVIDUAL.

THIS IS ABOUT LANGUAGE CHOICES THAT REFLECT THIS REALITY.

When we diminish the worth of a human being with adjectives like “illegal,” it shifts the tone of the conversation to one rife with accusation and vitriol. When we instead describe actions with negative descriptors,  the conversation becomes about the behavior, not the person. It may seem like a small change, but it’s the difference between demonizing a large group of people and criticizing a decision.

We can still have the immigration reform debate. There’s a lot to discuss. But in the meantime, let’s show a little respect for our fellow human beings. Even if you don’t agree with their choices, that doesn’t make them bad people. Let’s not pretend it does.