Saturday, February 03, 2018

Republicans likely to regret using families as political props

Almost 25 years ago, I suddenly had thrust on me the task of making as electorally effective as possible the visceral moral outrage most Northern Californians felt against Republican Governor Pete Wilson's xenophobic, anti-immigrant initiative, Prop. 187. The Governor thought inspiring panic about immigrants would be an easy route to re-election by an anxious California electorate that was 78 percent white. And it worked that year. But soon enough, tarred with the ordure of racism, Republicans lost their grip on the state. The non-white proportion of the electorate grew quickly (up to 30 percent by 2000 and still rising today), people of color worked together in political coalitions (however fraught), saner whites calmed down, and some of the brown high school students who marched against Prop. 187 lead the state legislature now.

In that dire fall of 1994, when I knew we simply could not win the contest we'd been forced into, I used to suggest that the only thing that might change the hearts of white voters would be if some of the GOPers' KKK-admiring adherents burned an immigrant mother and child alive -- on broadcast TV. No such atrocity happened, thank goodness. But I still think that was about the only development that might have stemmed the California immigration panic of that year.

Today, as Trump and his panicked white supporters crusade to make America white again, his government is making choices that are so visibly unjust and unjustified as to be the near equivalent of the lynching I imagined. At every turn, the law is being used to deny sympathetic migrant families a dignified life in this country. A few easily Googled examples:
  • There's the Afghanistan vet and green card holder in Chicago who came back like so many with semi-diagnosed brain injury, got in legal trouble, failed to navigate the maze that is naturalization, and is now trying to fast to death rather than be dumped in Mexico.
  • Then there's Helen Huynh. She is no longer with us. Along with her husband who had been a soldier in the South Vietnamese Army during our IndoChina war, she migrated to Southern California, became a citizen, and lived a peaceful life until diagnosed at age 61 with acute myeloid leukemia. Her best chance for life would have been a stem cell transplant from a sister still living in Vietnam. This might have saved Ms. Huynh except that U.S. consular authorities overseas slow-walked giving the sister a visa until it was too late.
  • It doesn't matter to Trump's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers how long someone has been a useful productive resident. Lukasz Niec, brought to the US from Poland at age 5, had lived in the U.S. with a green card for 40 years, worked as an internal medicine doctor in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and never bothered about citizenship. ICE dug up records of two teenage misdemeanors, some minor scrapes with the law which were expunged, and put the doctor in immigration detention awaiting deportation. His medical colleagues vouch for him and want him back at work.
  • Then there was Jorge Garcia, a 30-year Detroit resident with a U.S. citizen wife and two children and no convictions for anything. He was brought here by undocumented parents when he was ten; he had no path to citizenship, so ICE decided he had to go. The picture shows a last family hug at the airport.
What's more than a little amazing today is that the accumulating toll of atrocities against harmless residents -- a deportation here, a detention there -- in communities all over the country is cutting into our current anti-immigrant panic. According to Gallup (via Kevin Drum), both Democrats and Republicans (the latter almost all white, remember) are moderating their enthusiasm for reducing immigration.
Even among Republicans, the desire to reduce immigration has gone steadily down over the past two years. This is despite Donald Trump’s best efforts to weaponize the subject. Kevin Drum.
This is a lot better than the polling was in California in 1994. People, families, children, are still being terribly, and irretrievably, injured by Republican-inspired immigration theater. But if we can resist and protect enough, we just may grow out of this horrible moment. American cannot be made white again and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can stop using the lives of migrants as political pawns.

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