Bowed Heads to Raised Fists

Yesterday I attended a “Families Belong Together” rally in New Bedford, one of hundreds of similar events taking place nationwide. Between 400-500 people attended, overflowing into the balcony at the Bethel AME Chuch on County Street. It was good to see friends, neighbors, my sister-in-law, and to hear heartfelt expressions of concern for detained children and famillies. It was a tangible reminder that we — our undocumented friends included — are all members of a single community. It was also an affirmation of our responsibility for one another.

Over the years I’ve been to a number of events like this, often following something horrible — mass shootings, acts of hate, threats to civil liberties. Now it’s the Federal government caging children. Over the years I’ve noticed the same concerned citizens meeting as one, praying as one, the same clergy bowing their heads in unity, making the same reassurances, hearing the same exhortations from politicians and community leaders. There’s a “feel good” aspect to it all that disturbs me. Why aren’t people marching in the streets? Why aren’t there fewer bowed heads and more raised fists?

To be sure, the good friends of immigrants showed up and were counted. Reverend Sharyn Halliday and the Bethel AME Church cared enough to host the event. Community, union and faith leaders lined the pews. New Bedford House Representative Tony Cabral brought a daughter with every reason to be proud of her dad. New Bedford City Council member Dana Ribeiro spoke warmly to her city, and Brockton Council member Jean Bradley Derenoncourt delivered a moving appeal for America to keep faith with those who arrive here just looking to survive. The Coalition for Social Justice’s Maria Fortes pressed for House adoption of Senate Amendment #1147 — immigrant protections being now considered in conference by the House.

But the event did not reflect well on an overwhelmingly blue Massachusetts House that refused to vote on the Safe Communities Act and on Congressional Democrats who have done little for TPS and DACA recipients (both of whom were present yesterday). With the exception of Tony Cabral, not one other state representative bothered to show up at the New Bedford rally. And the lone U.S. Congressman who spoke should never have been invited.

Bill Keating (MA-09) gave an energetic shirtsleeve speech — all clenched fists and outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds. The problem with Keating’s performance was not its dramatic fist-pumping; it was the hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Jeff Sessions himself:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

Toward the end of the rally a group of local children recited ‘families deserve to stay together” in multiple languages, sweetly honoring children now sitting in ICE and CPB cages. With the event ending, clergy lined up awkwardly, a long interfaith blessing was delivered, and attendees filed outside into the hot summer air.

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Our answer to hate

This my last appeal for citizens to advocate for protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget. Originally proposed as Budget Amendment #1147 by Senator James Eldridge, these protections have been incorporated into Senate Bill S.2530 and are now in conference with the House. Call your State House Representative to ask them to support immigrant family protections. What’s happening in Washington should terrify and motivate state House Democrats to support such protections. This should be our answer to hate.

Here’s why the protections are so important

The Supreme Court just ruled in favor of Trump’s Muslim Ban. An ACLU petition asks Congress to pass legislation to block racist exclusions like this. While a ban is not the same thing as a registry, we don’t yet know how Trump’s Muslim Ban will affect citizens of the Muslim-majority countries who live in Massachusetts, whether CPB, ICE, or DHS will ask the Commonwealth to help track these Muslim neighbors — or if the occasional law enforcement official might have personal motivations to share data with ICE without authorization.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget bar the Commonwealth from cooperating with such registries.

Trump’s deportation machine is abusing families and children in shockingly cruel ways. Elizabeth Warren has a lengthy report on her visit to a McAllen, Texas Border Patrol facility where she was horrified by the treatment of incarcerated children. A report issued recently describes racially-motivated abuses of detainees in ICE facilities, including the Bristol County House of Correction. Last week it was reported that the Boston Public Schools took it upon themselves to share data with ICE, and on the Cape high school students were reported to ICE by guidance counselors for supposed gang affiliations simply because they spoke Spanish. This insanity must end. Let police deal with real criminals and end vigilantism.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget prevent state officials from being used as federal agents. Only the Massachusetts Department of Corrections will be able to fulfill some of these federal immigration functions.

Customs and Border Patrol is stopping vehicles on parts of I-93 and demanding that passengers produce proof of citizenship. Warrantless stops with requests for “papers!” is creepy and totalitarian enough without state and local police being enlisted in violations of the Fourth Amendment. Even with the 100-mile border “loophole,” many of these stops are unconstitutional. Let’s affirm that, at least in Massachusetts, a “nation of laws” requires warrants and probable cause to stop people.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget define strict rules under which police officers can ask about immigration status and require training on the law for all officers.

Read about these provisions yourself. Despite malicious misinformation, these provisions do not prevent police from arresting real criminals. They do make Massachusetts a lot safer for everyone and strengthen Constitutional protections many of us can still remember once having.

Call your State House Representative to ask them to support protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget.

Courage needed

Few people who listened to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech could fail to miss his remarks on minorities and immigrants. This is a demagogue playing to a far-right base by expanding a deportation machine. This is an unrepentant racist who now makes it clear he doesn’t want even legal immigration if it involves brown people.

In New Hampshire since last summer American citizens on I-93 have been stopped at roadblocks in Thornton, forced to show their ids, and had their cars searched in violation of what’s left of the Fourth Amendment. In Fort Lauderdale last week, agents stopped and boarded a Greyhound bus and again demanded to see everyone’s id. A video of the spectacle provoked widespread condemnation.

This is not a sign of a healthy democracy, nor is it an America most of us want to live in. It’s a little too reminiscent of the pogroms of Germany of 1935. And this is why we need the Safe Communities Act, now before the Massachusetts legislature.

State legislators want to protect the public, and they also want to provide law enforcement officials with the tools to do it. Anti-immigrant organizations like FAIR, and spokesmen for FAIR like Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, would have us believe Trump’s claim that an overwhelming number of immigrants from Latin America are rapists and cartel members. Those who know the immigrant community know that this is complete hogwash. But some legislators fear making the wrong call.

Hodgson and his former segregationist friend Jeff Sessions claim the Safe Communities Act is a “sanctuary” bill that prevents immigration agents from doing their job. Sessions, like Hodgson, even wants to arrest mayors of cities who won’t deputize their police as ICE agents.

But nobody’s stopping ICE from doing its work. The Safe Communities Act now moving through committee simply says that Massachusetts taxpayers aren’t picking up the tab for federal policing, and we’re not going to go out of our way to deputize our police and prison officials as ICE agents. The bill also says “no” to registries of Muslims, Latinos — or anyone else on the wrong side of the president.

Fear merchants like Tom Hodgson are hoping you won’t read the legislation and will believe whatever they tell you about it. But the Safe Communities Act is 154 lines double spaced, and it’s not difficult to read or understand.

An important calculation the legislature must make when voting on “Safe Communities” is whether the risks to democracy of expanding the president’s deportation machine outweigh any benefits of getting rid of what the president calls “bad hombres.” Most of the deportees we’ve been hearing about recently are guilty of 20 year-old DUI’s and other low level offenses. Expanding a police state to go after them will have only negative consequences.

Let’s leave the determination of dangerousness to local cops and DA’s — and not willingly join the president’s pogrom against brown people. Encourage your legislator to pass the Safe Communities Act. The quality of our democracy literally depends on more states passing courageous legislation like this.