A very dear friend of mine scolded me on Facebook for not letting people know that I’m an immigration lawyer with a “vested interest” in immigration policy, before writing anything on the topic. Actually, short of walking around with an inflatable kiddie-pool and carrying a torch while chanting, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” I think I’ve been pretty open about what I do from 9 to 5. But in the interest of full disclosure and Facebook harmony, here it is again:
I have been practicing immigration law full-time for more than 20 years. I have represented battered women from El Salvador, political prisoners from Albania, human rights activists from Kenya, Olympic gymnasts from Slovakia, research scientists from Ukraine, world-renowned chefs from Italy, ballroom dancers from the Czech Republic, and construction workers from Ecuador, Mexico, Romania and places I’ve forgotten. I’ve gotten visas for countless couples who found passports to be irrelevant when they fell in love, obtained lawful status for evangelical lay ministers from Guatemala who promised God would reward me, canceled out the deportations of mothers from Mali who had been genitally mutilated and were afraid that the same fate would befall their daughters. And yes, I’ve had a few clients who racked up DUIs, or committed misdemeanor shoplifting offenses, or lied about being U.S. citizens so they could escape a civil war in West Africa. So yes, I do have a dog in this fight.
Now, can we talk?
I approached Donald Trump’s big immigration speeches last week with anticipation, hope and trepidation. I was willing to keep an open mind about a topic which, next to abortion rights and religious freedom, is the most important issue for me in this campaign. I was prepared to praise the man if he came out with an honest, workable, non-tweetable attempt to address the extremely complicated factors that go into the whole concept of “illegal immigration.”
To say that I was disappointed is an understatement along the level of, “Houston, we have a problem.”
I listened politely as Trump spoke about building his wall, and understood that this was an appealing concept to many — including myself — who are troubled by the fluidity of our borders. As he discussed the modalities that would be used to build that wall, evoking technologies that are apparently not yet in existence, I realized that his use of this concept was much more symbolic than anything else. “Build a wall” has been an effective slogan over the years for many conservative opponents of immigration, and it doesn’t require much cerebral heavy lifting. The idea that we can build a physical barrier to keep people out of our country appeals to the emotional need to “keep us safe, and keep the other guy from taking what is ours.”
Trump sounded more poetic than Maya Angelou: “On day one, we will begin working on an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful Southern border wall.” He talked about “above- and below-ground sensors,” which other people call “tunnels.” He talked about aerial surveillance, towers and additional manpower. And he said Mexico would pay for the wall, even though the Mexican president with whom he’d met only hours before made it clear that Mexico “no paga.”
So the estimated $8 billion to $12 billion needed to build this “beautiful Southern border wall” will have to come from somewhere else, and that’s still up in the air. And then, since Trump likes walls so much, I’m sure that he will want to build a “beautiful Northern border wall” too because, well, you don’t want to have those pesky Canadians and Eskimos flooding indiscriminately across the border.
Beyond the wall, and the absolute lack of detail on both the methodologies by which it would be built and the financing, Trump talked about how he would increase the border patrol force by about 25 percent. I think that is a fantastic idea, but I’d like to know where that money is coming from too, especially after we build those walls. To say you are going to hire people is great; but unless you show how that’s economically plausible, it’s just a nice bumper sticker slogan.
Then Trump announced the revolutionary concept that he was going to change enforcement priorities by “removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, (and) public charges.” I stood up and gave him a standing ovation when I heard that. But I also gave President Barack Obama that same standing ovation when he announced those same priorities back in November of 2014. Yawn.
He then talked about screening refugees, and no one who has seen the brutality wreaked by the Islamic State and other Islamic terror groups should object to that. But as experts have noted, refugees generally undergo the most rigorous and time-consuming process of any category of immigrants who enter the US. Sometimes the process can take up to 18 months, or more. So again, nothing new.
And he talked about jobs, which is a big part of his appeal, the great job creator. Good for him. I agree that something needs to be done to bring workers out of the shadows, provide them with work authorization, give them identification cards and continue to allow them to work legally in our restaurant kitchens, mowing our backyards and cleaning our bathrooms.
But the thing that finally made me realize this was not a serious speech was the last scene, when Trump brought the mothers of murdered citizens on stage to say vote for me. In this powerful, hardly subliminal attack on so-called sanctuary cities, Trump did what the Democratic National Committee was justifiably criticized for doing when they trotted the mothers of Michael Brown and other so-called victims of police brutality on stage. I was appalled.
The suggestion that illegal aliens must be kept out of the country because they have an innate tendency to be more violent and homicidal than the average native-born American is wrong. Debatable, but still wrong. Statistics consistently show that immigrants commit violent crimes at a significantly lower rate that the native born. It’s an argument we can have. I’m fine with that.
My problem is using death to make your partisan point.
“My boy was shot by a cop. They’re bigoted monsters.”
“My boy was killed by an illegal. They’re homicidal maniacs.”
Same tune, different verses.
And if you don’t think it’s the same tune, that’s because you ears are registered with a different party, and you think some mothers are less entitled to grieve than others.
As for me, I’m thinking Helen Keller was lucky.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may send her email at [email protected]