THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN “IMMIGRANT” AND “LEGAL IMMIGRANT” IS A FALSE ONE

Immigrants

^ my future fellow Americans — and yours

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You will hear plenty of people who oppose the resolving of undocumented immigrants’ status, saying “I like legal immigration.” As if to make a distinction between how one immigrant got here as opposed to another. I find the distinction disingenuous.

Or, the people who say “legal immigration” will tell me “we must obey the rule of law.” As if laws are perforce always right and never unjust. I say “unjust,” because laws arise from what is just. At least in a democracy they do. On this point, Jeb Bush had it right when he said, about undocumented immigrants, “they didn’t come here to break a law, they broke a law to come here.”

The very definition of America is immigration. Except for Indians, we’re all of immigrant descent; and even the various tribes of Indians came here from elsewhere, albeit thousands of years ago. Immigration is how America gathers itself. No distinction is made, in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, of origin, or faith, or nationality, or language. Any attempt to prefer one sort of immigrant to another is an innovation. It is not part of the national mission.

Mitt Romney has said it well : “every religion enhances the national character.” I would add, ‘every origin of immigrant enhances the national character.”

Congress has, from time to time, enacted laws that prejudice one sort of immigrant in favor of another. I find these laws specious. If our Constitution extends equal protection of the laws to all, and rights of due process, how can an immigration law treat potential immigrants unequally ? You can answer that immigrants don’t possess such rights until they are admitted, but that is to invert the Constitution. How can an immigrant get admitted to equal protection if he or she is denied equal protection before the fact ?

These Constitutional arguments avoid a deeper objection to what people mean by “legal immigration.” Most who use that phrase argumentatively disfavor immigrants from “shithole countries,” as our President termed it, or who are of color and don’t speak English — as if English were entitled to unequal protection of the law over other languages. That immigrants bring with them cultural customs that most of us are unused to, or uncomfortable with, is  no argument against them; because the promise of America is to make immigrants comfortable — and welcome — in the nation. Many who feel uncomfortable about immigrants’ customs talk about “assimilation,” as if immigrants don’t want to “be American.” This is false. I have witnessed, in my long life, many brands of immigrant move from complete un-assimilation to complete assimilation in three generations. How can it be otherwise ? Those who grow up; in a culture are part of it.

In any case, the nation belongs to those who live in it and to those who will live in it in the future; and if the language or customs of that future are different from what we are normed for, so be it; we do not own the nation, it is not our private property : we only tenant it; we shepherd it forward.

Those who use the term “legal immigration” do imply such a property interest in the nation — as if our cities and countryside belonged to us by deed and “illegal immigration” were a kind of  “keep off the grass” sign, or a “no trespassing,” not to mention a “violators will be prosecuted.”

No such property interest in the nation inures to anyone.

So much for the moral and inspirational bases of immigration justice. There’s also the economic argument : every immigrant is a customer. The more customers a business has, the more it grows. Immigration is bullish. Immigrants not only spend money, they also create it. More businesses are started by immigrants than by those who are born here. Jeb Bush made an economic argument for immigration as well as a moral one : because immigrants have a much younger demographic, they bolster the solvency of Social Security and Medicaid.

Given all of the above, it is imperative that we move past the hatred of immigrants that has poisoned our current politics. The national mission insists on it, the economy benefits from it, and immigrant customs enhance the national character. Arguments to the contrary are self defeating at best, destructive at worst. Hopefully a new Congress, and in 2020 a new President, will grant DACA folks pathways to citizenship, make permanent the temporary status of so many “TPS” immigrants, welcome refugees, grant automatic citizenship to combat veterans, and in general resolve the angry conundra that have pushed our nation off its rails of destiny.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

THE CASE FOR MIKE CAPUANO, PART 2

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^ Ready to door knock in Brighton : “Team Capuano” feels good about their guy

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Ten days ago I wrote a fairly long column about why I personally support Mike Capuano for re-election as one of two Boston-plus Congresspeople. This time I would like to argue more generally about why I think the voters of our District should re-elect him. I will focus not on his strengths in office but on the forensics of the campaign itself.

Ayanna Pressley, Capuano’s well-liked opponent, with an estimable record of her own as a Boston City Councillor, has argued two points. Neither one stands up to cross-examination :

First : that the Democratic party needs new voices. Voters don’t elect a Congress-person for the sake of a political party. They elect for the benefit of everyone. The Committee that Capuano will chair — Transportation, Pipelines, and Hazardous materials — oversees crucial infrastructures underpinning everyone who lives in and near Boston, as well as the Federal funds which, by law, are dedicated to maintenance and upgrading of these infrastructures. As Committee chairman, he sets funding priorities as well as the time involved to secure said appropriations. If anything, the power that Capuano will exercise over these infrastructures is a solid reason for NOT ousting him in favor of a “new voice.”

Pressley may argue that as the vote on September 4th is a Democratic primary, the future of that party is very much the main issue. But no. In the 7th District almost everyone enrolled in a party enrolls as a Democrat because every office on every ballot, except Governor, is decided there; and if you want to have a voice in who gets elected, you vote in the Democratic primary. Very few who vote in the Democratic primary care much, or at all, about Democratic party matters. For example : Democratic ward committees — the party structure set up by MGL c. 55 —  endorse candidates in party primaries who, more often than not, fail to win the Democratic primary in which the voters, not just party activists, vote.

Second : Pressley argues that as the population of the 7th District is mostly non-Caucasian, she, as a woman of color, is more representative than Capuano. I find this argument without merit. A candidate earns a vote because of what they stand for and can do, not because they have this biology or that one.

Boston has five City Councillors who are women of color, three State Representatives, and one State Senator. Two other women hold office in the City. We’ve had State Senators of color going back to the 1970s. We’ve had an African-American District Attorney : Ralph Martin. The city elected an at-large City Councillor of color, Tom Atkins, as far back as the late 1960s. Ed Brooke, then an Elm Hill resident, was elected a United States Senator, twice. David Nelson ran for Congress in the ancestor of the District now held by Stephen Lynch. He won a solid percent of the total vote and was later appointed a Federal Judge. It is not as though Boston voters are unwilling to elect candidates of color. Quite the opposite.

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Campaigns matter. You have to pick your spot, and, assuming you’ve picked smartly, you have to make your case. That case has to answer the basic question : why am I a better choice than my opponent ? And, if you are challenging an incumbent, the question has a second part : what can I do that the incumbent cannot ? The reverse question also demands an answer : what can you, the challenger do, that I, the incumbent, am not already doing ?

To these questions the answer “change can’t wait,” which Pressley has argued, is no answer at all. You can’t say “change can’t wait” until you have shown the voter why there should be change at all.

Pressley argues that change is needed because of Donald Trump. I fail to see why Mike Capuano should be replaced because of Donald Trump. Capuano is an opponent of Mr. Trump, not a supporter; and as a Committee chairman in the new Congress, he’ll be an even more influential opponent. If anything, Pressley’s change argument cuts against her. If the nation were at political peace, voters might say “OK, a new voice,” because nothing would be lost or at stake. But now, of all times, when the future of the nation is on the line, opponents of Mr. Trump need all the clout we can get.


To sum up : I like Ayanna Pressley, politically and personally. She’s a fine speaker, an effective Councillor, an advocate for small business, and good company. Many of my friends support her, and she has earned that support. But this campaign is not only about Ayanna Pressley’s accomplishments. It’s about Mike Capuano as well, and, ultimately, about Federal power and who can best use it for all the voters of the District.

Adrian Walker in today’s Boston Globe appears to decry that the “status quo” is in good shape in Massachusetts. Why is that bad ? If those in office are doing a diligent and forward-looking job — as almost all of our current electeds are, including Mike Capuano — maybe the status quo is exactly what we should want.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere