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Whose voice?

The weblog Democratic Strategist has posted a document entitled "A Letter to a 'Middle of the Road Moderate' non-Latino Friend about the Moral Difference Between Democrats and Republicans." The letter, written by James Vega, is a response to a comment from a friend that "I don't believe the people who dominate the Republican Party are really any less emphatic toward minorities, the poor, and the disadvantaged than are the people who dominate the Democratic Party."To say that Vega disagrees would be an understatement. His letter is an explosion of rage against the Republican Party's embrace of policies that, he argues, are explicitly aimed at "making the lives of illegal immigrants so miserable that they leave" (or, as Governor Romney has put it, that they "self-deport"). Vega notes that the impact of these policies has been felt by Latino immigrants here legally as well as Latinos who have lived in the U.S. all their lives.

This Republican-created strategy of consciously and intentionally making their lives so miserable they leaveof deliberately inflicting suffering as a social policy against men,women and children whose only crime is having migrated to America to seek workis notsimply wrong or bad. It is in every profound sense of the wordevil. It is evil in the sameway that racial prejudice is evil. It is evil in the same way that anti-Semitism is evil. It presentsthe starkest possible moral choice between right and wrong.

As a result I believe your facile equation of Republicans and Democrats is not simply wrong. Ibelieve it is deeply and profoundly immoral and I believe that it is ultimately an act ofcowardice. You have clear moral issue of right and wrong staring you directly in the face and,because it is ideologically inconvenient for your reasonable, middle of the road self-image,you are acting like a frightened child and covering your eyes to make it go away.

You remember as well as I do the countless times we stood together and watched our twosons play together as they grew upas toddlers, as kids, as teen-agers and young men. Onthe walls of our homes and in our photo albums we have dozens of pictures of the twoof them side by side. When the time comes to choose who to vote for, ask yourself how youcan possibly support a political party that has made it their explicit goal to make the lives miserable of children whose only crime is that they look exactly like your own sons childhoodbest friend.

The letter, perhaps unavoidably, made me think of how the Catholic bishops have employed this kind of rhetoric. I've certainly read my share of episcopal columns in diocesan newspaper calling for reform of the nation's immigration policies. In most cases, their tone is measured and moderate, acknowledging the difficult dilemmas and granting goodwill on both sides. When it comes to issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and this year's favored issue of "religious liberty,"however, the rhetoric becomes more pointed, more likely to speak of "good" versus "evil" and "death" versus "life." The tone sounds very much like Vega's does here.I wonder if the tone struck by the bishops would change if more of them had the kind of direct, personal experience with this kind of bigotry that Vega clearly has had. More than partisan or ideological preferences, I think the bishops' public voice reflects their roots in a predominantly white Catholic culture. In that culture, the plight of Latinos subject to racial animus can be acknowledged as a concern, but it's easier to discount it when compared to issues like abortion. Latino Catholics may not have that luxury.I think this has implications for how the bishops engage both the public square and their own flock. I suspect that many of them are going to be disappointed that so many Catholics--particularly Latino Catholics--will have voted to re-elect a man they have painted as the enemy of life, marriage and religious liberty. Reading Vega's letter may help them understand why.

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As a point of reference, here is the immigration plank in the 2012 GOP platform. The entire platform is available here. (The link in the platform doc to the immigration section seems to jump to the wrong section, so I'm pasting the text of that section here).http://whitehouse12.com/republican-party-platform/The Rule of Law: Legal Immigration (Top)The greatest asset of the American economy is the American worker. Just as immigrant labor helped build our country in the past, todays legal immigrants are making vital contributions in every aspect of our national life. Their industry and commitment to American values strengthens our economy, enriches our culture, and enables us to better understand and more effectively compete with the rest of the world. Illegal immigration undermines those benefits and affects U.S. workers. In an age of terrorism, drug cartels, human trafficking, and criminal gangs, the presence of millions of unidentified persons in this country poses grave risks to the safety and the sovereignty of the United States. Our highest priority, therefore, is to secure the rule of law both at our borders and at ports of entry.We recognize that for most of those seeking entry into this country, the lack of respect for the rule of law in their homelands has meant economic exploitation and political oppression by corrupt elites. In this country, the rule of law guarantees equal treatment to every individual, including more than one million immigrants to whom we grant permanent residence every year. That is why we oppose any form of amnesty for those who, by intentionally violating the law, disadvantage those who have obeyed it. Granting amnesty only rewards and encourages more law breaking. We support the mandatory use of the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (S.A.V.E.) program an internet-based system that verifies the lawful presence of applicants prior to the granting of any State or federal government entitlements or IRS refunds. We insist upon enforcement at the workplace through verification systems so that jobs can be available to all legal workers. Use of the E-verify program an internet-based system that verifies the employment authorization and identity of employees must be made mandatory nationwide. State enforcement efforts in the workplace must be welcomed, not attacked. When Americans need jobs, it is absolutely essential that we protect them from illegal labor in the workplace. In addition, it is why we demand tough penalties for those who practice identity theft, deal in fraudulent documents, and traffic in human beings. It is why we support Republican legislation to give the Department of Homeland Security long-term detention authority to keep dangerous but undeportable aliens off our streets, expedite expulsion of criminal aliens, and make gang membership a deportable offense.The current Administrations approach to immigration has undermined the rule of law at every turn. It has lessened work-site enforcement and even allows the illegal aliens it does uncover to walk down the street to the next employer and challenged legitimate State efforts to keep communities safe, suing them for trying to enforce the law when the federal government refuses to do so. It has created a backdoor amnesty program unrecognized in law, granting worker authorization to illegal aliens, and shown little regard for the life-and-death situations facing the men and women of the border patrol.Perhaps worst of all, the current Administration has failed to enforce the legal means for workers or employers who want to operate within the law. In contrast, a Republican Administration and Congress will partner with local governments through cooperative enforcement agreements in Section 287g of the Immigration and Nationality Act to make communities safer for all and will consider, in light of both current needs and historic practice, the utility of a legal and reliable source of foreign labor where needed through a new guest worker program. We will create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.State efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged, not attacked. The pending Department of Justice lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah must be dismissed immediately. The double-layered fencing on the border that was enacted by Congress in 2006, but never completed, must finally be built. In order to restore the rule of law, federal funding should be denied to sanctuary cities that violate federal law and endanger their own citizens, and federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, in open defiance of federal law.We are grateful to the thousands of new immigrants, many of them not yet citizens, who are serving in the Armed Forces. Their patriotism should encourage us all to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society. To that end, while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nations official language, a unifying force essential for the educational and economic advancement of not only immigrant communities but also our nation as a whole.

Here's my view: Vega's description of hateful cultural behavior in some red and border states is very powerful witness. It's good for anyone who doesn't walk those shoes, like me, to read it. His claim that this cultural hatred has filtered up into the GOP's official policy on a national level is questionable at best, and in my opinion doesn't survive a read-through of the actual platform. Nor does it survive anyone's experience who has been watching the convention proceedings. He repeatedly describes the GOP's policy as, making the lives of illegal immigrants so miserable that they leave. My challenge to him is, Show me where it says that in the platform. His claim also fails to account for the views of prominent national leaders like Senator Marco Rubio, whose immigration views align pretty well with the US Bishops' views. How does Vega account for NM governor Susana Martinez speaking at the convention last night? Here is her sketch of a plan to address illegal immigration: "Martinez envisions an approach with multiple levels: increased border security; deportation for criminals; a guest-worker program for people who want to go freely back and forth across the border to work; a DREAM Act-style pathway to citizenship, through the military or college, for children brought here illegally by their parents; and a visa (coupled with a penalty or a tagback) that allows the rest of the illegal population to remain in the U.S. while they follow standard naturalization procedures." Surely the allegedly monolithic hatred for illegals among Republican leaders wouldn't give a prime-time speaking slot to someone with those views. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/election-2012/post/nm-gov-susana-mar... said that: it is certainly up to conservatives who adhere to Catholic Social Teaching to condemn racial hatred, including hatred that is enshrined in laws and policies. There are a number of points in the Republican plank that are troubling. I think Vega goes way overboard, though. By claiming that the plank reduces to, making the lives of illegal immigrants so miserable that they leave, he is essentially erecting a straw man.

The solution to current immigration problem is straightforward enough; it involves a balance between justice and mercy:Justice Weed out indocumentados that are in jail; they obviously have real problems and should simply be sent home.Mercy Grant the remaining indocumentados the permanent status of Permanent Residence. This legal status allows them to live and work here legally and indefinitely, and to travel to and from Mexico as necessary to tend their personal affairs.Justice Those with Permanent Residence status are not allowed to vote. Not being able to vote is a real penalty, a severe enough punishment for crossing the border illegally.

The question here is tone. I was in a meeting yesterday where everyone around the table could look forward to lunch and no one was behind on his or her mortgage. We were discussing refusal to pay employees their wages, or what we call wage theft. That is not a crime in this state. It comes under contract law. The employer calls his lawyer, the employee calls his or hers, if it comes to that. Some of us thought it would help someone done out of his wages if it were a crime and he had some place to go to complain. Others thought that would be a needless duplication of services that could be accessed by anyone with a lawyer and an accountant. It was a civil discussion. (Our side came out ahead, but in these matters, it ain't over until it's over.) I wondered if it would have been so civil if any of the victims of wage theft had had a couple of hours to sit with the suits on a Tuesday morning.The Republican platform is similarly civil. It wants to avoid needless duplication of services. Any immigrant with a lawyer and an accountant can probably get justice from our immigration system, and none of them will be kept in prison without charges or deported to their deaths since their lawyers will know what to do, so what's the problem? The law already graciously grants all an immigrant should be entitled to. Then someone like Mr. Vega comes along, raises his voice and seems unseemly. Shocking!But we know, because he told us, that Mr. Romney doesn't intend to follow the platform on abortion, and his program for immigration -- apart from the platform -- is to encourage self-deportation. Mr. Vega may have been set off by that thought, and not by the smooth writing of well-fed suits. Episcopal thoughts on immigration are similarly pitched to the folks who make the rules and don't like shouting. That, of course, makes it easier for the folks who make the rules not to hear the bishops. It may be good to propose St. Jerome's temperament, not just his scholarship, as a model.

Mitt Romney has a position on immigration. It's available here:http://www.mittromney.com/issues/immigrationIt's not identical to the Republican platform; laudably, it positions the problems that attend illegal immigration in the context of a larger, broken system of immigration; a good deal of it is sensible; and the term "self deportation" does not appear in it, nor does anything that resembles what I suppose that term is supposed to mean (in Vega's usage, making the lives of illegal immigrants so miserable that they leave).I suppose it wouldn't be mistaken for a Democratic position on immigration. But anyone who reads it with the presupposition that Mitt Romney's position on illegal immigration can be boiled down to the term "self deportation" would come away admitting to him/herself, "Oops! I was wrong."Btw, I'm attempting to introduce evidence into the discussion in part because the journal in which Vega's article appeared, the Democratic Strategist, numbers among the components of its mission, "(2) to insist upon greater use of data and greater reliance on empirical evidence in strategic thinking". That's a worthy goal. Memes are pesky things when they are perpetuated in contravention of actual facts. Complexity runs the risk of attenuating a decent regard for the truth.

The law already graciously grants all an immigrant should be entitled to.Tom,I think you will find people across the political spectrum who know 'illegal' immigrants and believe the law has failed in their particular circumstance. We have 12 million undocumented immigrants because the law had failed to allow most of them to become legal. And most are gainfully employed and paying taxes. Our immigration system is broken and its not broken because we arent tough enough at the borders, etc. Its broken because it has failed to adjust to the realities of life today.

Left out of this discussion is the simple fact that illegal immigrants break the law by entering our country, they break the law by remaining, and they break the law by taking jobs in our country. Also ignored is the fact that the cumulative effect of mass immigration is to depress wages, thereby contributing to poverty. Mr. Vega doesn't care about any of this, because, in the final analysis, he doesn't think the United States is a nation with a right to enforce its laws and defend its borders, and he doesn't think Americans have more of a claim on this nation than any one else does. Mr. Vega can think what he likes, but he can't reasonably expect Americans to think like he does.

First, thanks to Jim Pauwels for making available the Republican Party platform plank on immigration. This (both immigration law and party platform language) is not something I know a lot about, but a couple of things jumped out at me upon reading it:1 - "The pending Department of Justice lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah must be dismissed immediately...[snip... In order to restore the rule of law, federal funding should be denied to sanctuary cities that violate federal law and endanger their own citizens, and federal funding should be denied to universities that provide in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens, in open defiance of federal law."So state laws that infringe on federal immigration law by treating immigrants more harshly are to be supported. State (and municipal) laws that treat immigrants more generously are to be punished. (If I'm reading this correctly.) I can see how that would lead to the reaction Mr. Vega describes.2 - "We are grateful to the thousands of new immigrants, many of them not yet citizens, who are serving in the Armed Forces. Their patriotism should encourage us all to embrace the newcomers legally among us, assist their journey to full citizenship, and help their communities avoid isolation from the mainstream of society. To that end, while we encourage the retention and transmission of heritage tongues, we support English as the nations official language...."So illegal immigrants can serve as cannon fodder for our wars...but they can't become citizens. In fact, we're so inspired by their patriotism that...well...we want to make English the nation's "official language". Again, I can understand how, say, a 23 year old veteran who grew up in the US for the past two decades might not exactly be feeling the love emanating from the Republican platform.

'anyone who reads it with the presupposition that Mitt Romneys position on illegal immigration can be boiled down to the term self deportation would come away admitting to him/herself, Oops! I was wrong.'Well, I'm not suggesting it "boils down" to that, and I don't know that his version of self-deportation should be characterized as "making people miserable" (he certainly looks affable the whole time he describes it), but he has said his policy includes self-deportation as a goal:http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57364444-503544/romney-on-immigra...

Mark Preece, thanks for that link. Apparently, as Romney himself uses the term, "self-deporting" means, 'illegal immigrants voluntarily return to their country of origin because, by adopting and enforcing an E-Verify system, no work is available to them here.' Whether that plan is cogent, practical and morally defensible is open to question (my initial answers are, Not sure, Probably not, and Probably respectively).

I think it is best to save the drama/emotion on this issue and, be reasonable and responsible and exercise some basic Christian charity. With this in mind, the solution to the current immigration problem involves a balance between justice and mercy:Justice Weed out indocumentados that are in jail; they obviously have real problems and should simply be sent home.Mercy Grant the remaining indocumentados the permanent status of Permanent Residence. This legal status allows them to live and work here legally and indefinitely, and to travel to and from Mexico as necessary to tend their personal affairs.Justice Those with Permanent Residence status are not allowed to vote. Not being able to vote is a real penalty, a severe enough punishment for crossing the border illegally.

Ken: you already said that. Which politicians do you think will enact the solution you describe?

None yet. But that is what they should do. Politicians only do that which they are either forcred by the voters or circumstance to do, or that which they are paid to do (as in the second oldest profession).:-)

Mollie - What do you think of the permanent, Permanent Resident solution I described? Do you think it wold work? Do you disagree with it? Why?

@Ken (8/30, 5:27 pm) Sorry to jump into the conversation you and Mollie Wilson O'Reilly have started (and I hope will continue), but I did want to offer one thought about the Permanent Resident solution. I think I understand the motivations behind it, and I appreciate the way you talk about Mercy almost as a category for political decision-making (it happens all too rarely), but I fear the long-term consequences of creating a permanent class of, well, second-class citizens.

Well Luke, with 10 million indocumentados residing in the USA, living and working in a sub rosa economy and status, we already are in the process of creating a permanent class of, well, second-class citizens. Also, Permanent Residents are not second-class citizens. They live, work, can buy/sell property, and have all the opportunities the rest of us have. The only hitch is they cannot vote.Considering their current situations, most indocumentados would be thrilled to have permanent residence status. Besides, as a nation we could decide later - to allow them to become citizens. Meanwhile, granting such a status would help everyone and would get this issue off the table for now kick that ball down the road to the next generation so to speak.

Luke, perhaps I'm thinking of a different type of program than you are, but I thought that one of the chief points of the residence program is that it *doesn't* extend citizenship? I.e. they wouldn't be second-class citizens, they wouldn't be citizens at all? And they could be employed legally, and travel home and come back above-board? To me, it sounds like a good idea, but I admit I don't know a lot about it and there could be all sorts of drawbacks I haven't considered.

I think Ken is right---his proposal would be a step forward. And my reaction above is just that---a reaction, and one that's more from the gut than the head.