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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Open Letter to Congressman Rohrabacher

Dear Congressman Rohrabacher,

I happened to catch a rerun of last week's (1/27) episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO. You were on the panel along with Mario Batali, Kennedy, and Martin Bashir.

I was listening but not paying close attention to the conversation - honestly, it was so much of what I've been hearing in the Republican debates that, after a while, it just becomes background noise - until it came to the topic of immigration.

I don't have the transcript, but I remember hearing you say, "The children of immigrants are bringing down the level of education in our classrooms. They come here and they don't speak English and they are taking away time from *our* kids [Note: I am quite certain you said "our kids"] which denies our kids the opportunity to learn".

Rep. Dana. Rohrabacher
That's not an exact quote but close enough, as it is said, for government work.

I was shocked and disturbed by your comments because I have always thought of you as one of the more "moderate" Republican Conservatives in the House. Not a Tea Party Republican but a man after Ronald Reagan's own heart, having served as one of his senior speech writers with input into the development of his "trickle-down" economic plan which has come to be known as Reaganomics.

So, I went over to your webpage to learn a bit more about your political positions. I was especially interested in your posture on Immigration. Here's what I found:
Rep. Rohrabacher vigorously opposes any attempt to legalize the status of millions of illegals and continues to support common sense immigration policies that serve the American people first. This year, Rep. Rohrabacher has co-sponsored bills to end birthright citizenship, declare English as the official language, strengthen the E-verify program requiring employers to check the work eligibility of all applicants, and introduced H.R. 1822, the No Health Care Subsidies for Illegal Immigrants Act. Rohrabacher's bill would prevent illegal aliens from receiving health insurance subsidies under the new health care law by requiring proof of citizenship for eligibility.
In light of all that, I was especially intrigued by your term "common sense immigration policies" and wondered what those might be, exactly.  Especially those that "serve the American people first".

When I read the June 3, 2010 report in the LA Times about your unannounced visit to a Mexican consul's office which had been established in a restaurant on Catalina Island, I began to understand.
The Mexican consul’s office first offered the photo identification cards to local illegal immigrant workers two years ago, setting up shop for a day in the upscale Catalina Island Country Club restaurant. The matricula cards can be used to establish credit, open bank accounts, buy insurance and apply for government services.
Apparently, after being quoted as saying,“Where you have illegal immigration, crime and drugs are sure to follow," you forced the Consul to move out of the restaurant, as apparently the restaurant did not have federal approval to host the Consul’s operations. The Consul then moved to a nearby church. You followed. Here's that report as published in the LA Times:
At 10 a.m., Rohrabacher and an assistant strode into the church to personally express his concerns, raising eyebrows. Rohrabacher was greeted by Deputy Consul General Juan Carlos Mendoza Sanchez of Los Angeles in the middle of a room where Mexican specialists were typing information into laptop computers from two dozen men and women seeking their services.

But all eyes were on Rohrabacher and Sanchez, who launched into a carefully worded dialogue, expressing strongly opposing opinions.

Standing inches apart, Sanchez told Rohrabacher, “We have a lot of respect for you. At the same time, we have certain responsibilities.”

Rohrabcher responded: “I understand that. But there is a problem in our country; there are too many illegals here.”

“This is not done with any type of belligerency,” Rohrabacher added, referring to his unannounced visit.

“Everyone has their own point of view,” Sanchez said. “We are performing this activity under international law.”

“Well, that will be decided in Washington and Mexico City,” Rohrabacher said.
Photoshopped by The Orange Juice Blog
I would hope this incident has since come to some satisfactory resolve for all parties, but I tend to doubt it.

I write all of this to allow the readers of my blog to have some context in which to understand what I'm about to say to you.

I am one of those "immigrants". No, not Mexican. Portuguese. I grew up in an apartment above my grandparents in a tenement house in Fall River, MA. All the men in my family worked in the factories and mills and all the women worked in the 'sweat shops' which were part of the 'garment industry'.

Our neighborhood was, for all intents and purposes, a little Portuguese village transplanted from Lisbon and the Azores where most people who were my family and neighbors were born. We all spoke Portuguese.

When I went off to school, I could only speak enough English to purchase what my grandmother needed at the local market. There was no Head Start or Kindergarten, so I was excited to be learning my ABCs and 123s.

Except, there were no provisions made for immigrant kids like me, so I began my academic career in a classroom for those with "special educational needs".

To enlarge for easier reading, click on image
We didn't really know much about learning disabilities then, so the fact of the matter is that I was in a classroom with high functioning children who had low IQs. Not low enough to be institutionalized, but high enough for the educational system to be compelled to have to do something with and for them.

My parents were mortified. Horrified. They knew I didn't have a low IQ but the tests I had taken were all in English, so I had failed miserably. Enough to qualify me to be in the class all the other kids called "The Retards". I was embarrassed and confused.

My teacher, a feisty Irish woman named Mrs. Kelliher, looked deep into my eyes and said, "It's okay, honey. You will learn English. I'm going to teach you."

And so, while other kids were learning how to identify colors and stack blocks and wipe off trays and tables in the cafeteria, Mrs. Kelliher taught me English. With her help and the encouragement and support of my parents and family, I did so well that, by the end of the first quarter, I was placed into the 'normal' classroom.

Today, I am a productive citizen of the United States. I am an Episcopal Priest with my doctorate and have done post-doctoral work. I have been gainfully employed since I was 15 and a half years old. I pay taxes, mow the lawn, and do not have chickens in my living room nor goats in my front yard.

Oh, and I vote.

Our six children are all gainfully employed and wonderfully educated. Most are married and have blessed us with five grandchildren, all of whom attend public schools. I have no doubt that they, too, will grow to be productive citizens of the United States of America.

I have made certain that they know the story of how their grandparents came to this country and how they worked hard so that their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren - and children of all future generations - could enjoy the liberty and justice guaranteed for all in our Constitution.

Here's the thing, Congressman Rohrabacher: We don't have too many "illegal aliens" in this country. We do not have enough Mrs. Kellihers.

We have immigration laws that are unjust, when they're not draconian, and need to be reformed. And, not to "serve the American people first" but which are in service of the principles of "freedom and justice" which are the foundation of American society.

We have too many "good American" small businesses who are only too happy to hire those "illegal aliens" so they don't have to contribute to payroll taxes, social security and Medicare.

We also have too many "good American" big businesses who "outsource" their employment to other countries so they can keep production costs down and profits up and then get special tax breaks because they are in a higher income bracket.

Which is part of the reason our educational system is in trouble and there aren't enough Mrs. Kellihers in classrooms anymore.

And, don't even get me started on the Evil Twin of the debacle of our immigration system: Human Trafficking. 

I know these words will probably fall on deaf ears and blind eyes, but I wanted you to know that in your righteous indignation and anger about "illegal aliens" taking educational opportunities from "our kids" and jobs from "the American people," your words fall heavily on my heart.

I know you're not a bad person. I'm sure you love your country and serve it with pride. You've simply and rather conveniently neglected the fact that we are a nation of immigrants.

Except for the First People - the Native Americans - and yes, many of the Mexicans who are part of your constituency, everyone is a foreigner in The United States. Everyone came here from a different place. My grandparents did. Perhaps your grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great grandparents did.

Every single one of those people contributed to making this country what it is today. Indeed, they helped to make us who we are today.

I don't want big government either, Mr. Congressman - especially in terms of Reproductive Rights - but the worst of it is that we pretend like we have an immigration policy, we make coming into the United States without our permission illegal, and then we actually don't enforce it because it benefits big business.

As long as we give tax breaks to big business, we're going to have big government.

It also seems to me that as the American public continues to focus more intensely on illegal immigration and securing the nation's borders, the number of members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus continues to grow as the situation grows worse.

I'd like to see some "common sense immigration policies," too, sir. Ones that serve the American principles first so that the American people can be served.

I urge you to spend some time with some of those "illegal aliens" in your district. No, they don't vote. Yet. But, they want to become American citizens and if you help them, they will vote for you.

Listen to the stories of their lives. Work with local, small businesses as well as large corporations to hire and pay them fairly. Help their children get a good education so they will grow to be contributing, productive citizens of this great country of ours.

It's called The American Dream. For too many, it's become the American Nightmare - for those who are immigrants as well as everyone else in this country.

We can change that.

It takes equal amounts of common sense and compassion.

I don't imagine I've changed your mind, but perhaps I have touched your heart.

Political dogma without compassion is surely the ugliest blight on 'America the Beautiful' which is reaching epidemic proportions in this country.

Along with Terry Waite, the British envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury who was held captive in Lebanon for four years, I believe, "At the end of the day, love and compassion will win".

I believe that because I have lived it and know it to be true.

If you open your heart, your mind will follow and you'll know it, too.


Kevin Scott said...

Dear Elizabeth

If you are ever in London, come to preach. our local school had 22 first languages at the last count. And 10% are Muslim. We even have some Portugese....
You would be vedry welcome.

The Revd Kevin Scott
St John the Baptist, Malden

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Kevin - What wonderful diversity - and even a few Portuguese! Marvelous!

I've been to London a few times - 10 years apart - and always in conjunction with a Lambeth Conference. It would be wonderful to be there without a lot of stuffy old men in purple shirts. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! I too am sick of the mean rheteric. It is amazing to me that the party that thumbs the Bible all the time tends to forget this most important passage-"You shall not wrong a foreigner or oppress him, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt." Exodus 22:21.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Yes, Maria, it is mean and it may be common but it is totally devoid of any sense. I sent my open letter to the Congressman's office. I totally expect to be ignored. I'll certainly update this blog if I get a response.

Anonymous said...

I am constantly amazed that we are a country of so-called Christians who fail to recognize that the first order of relationship is human being to human being, and the second order is as children of our God and Father ("joint heirs" and all that...), and then, and ONLY THEN, as citizens of a country. We have it all ass-backwards. If we don't get this, how can we possibly get that sheep and goats thing? "When I was hungry, you carefully checked my citizenship status, then refused to give me to eat..."
God help us all...
Lou Poulain
Sunnyvale CA

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Preach it, Lou!