Immigrants and the soul of our democracy

Dear Friend:

We are witness to a shameful moment in history. The populist tide that swept the current president into power is deep and cannot be categorized simply, and we cannot discount the facts of income inequality and rural economic stagnation, just to mention two issues.

But we also must not ignore the racial divisions that are historically part of this country, and that continue to exist whether some acknowledge it or not. And tragically, the president and his enablers are misdirecting public anxiety about all these issues, scapegoating selected groups instead of uniting us to face problems together. A prime target is the immigrant community.

Make no mistake. This applies to both those who are here with authorization and those who are not. We have seen the chaotic rollout of a travel ban on those from Muslim-majority countries, which has affected refugees and authorized immigrants alike. We have seen new immigration guidance that threatens to tear even more families apart, no longer even pretending only to focus on people who might be a danger to the communities in which they live.

And we have seen a trial balloon in the form of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo, which nobody claims to own but which has been verified as coming from DHS, that suggests deputizing local law enforcement and National Guard in four border states, and the seven states that are adjacent to the border states, as immigration enforcers – a true deportation force.

That makes it all the more alarming that, at the state level, the Texas Senate hastily passed S.B. 4, a flawed bill that forces local law enforcement to put pressure on immigrant communities. As noted above, this is part of an emerging anti-immigrant theme from the presidential regime on down.

Enclosed below is a commentary specific to the subject of recent actions on immigration that I published in the El Paso Times and elsewhere, in both English and Spanish. The politics of fear and exclusion can be effective, and this session the Texas Legislature will target many other Americans, among them workers and small businesses, teachers, and people who are gay and transgender. As we fight back, we have to keep this in mind: We all have an identity, whether white, black, brown, red, yellow, or purple; Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or atheist; public or private sector worker, manager, or small business owner; retiree or student; single or married. The Constitution states that we all have the right to pursue happiness; common sense tells us that must start with giving each other respect and dignity. We’re all in this together.

As always, I will continue fighting for the community of Americans and Immigrants that I am proud to represent, El Paso and Texas Senate District 29.



Texas Senate embraces moment, but ignores history

We are living in a moment of fear that is being projected onto immigrants, and this now frames every current public policy debate on a wide range of issues, most recently and obviously over travel bans, deportations, and the border.

This happened in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower instituted “Operation Wetback,” an offensive name for an offensive operation that removed half a million people. Before that, in the 1930s, a similar operation rounded up between half a million and two million people, many of them American citizens, and sent them to Mexico.

Our country’s discriminatory attitudes and acts are well documented, from anti-Irish and anti-German sentiment in the early to mid-1800s to vicious lies about Italians, Russians, Chinese, and other groups in the late 1800s and early 1900s to the internment of American citizens of Japanese origin in World War II.

We also have a history of negative attitudes towards certain religions, including the well-documented antipathy towards Jews in the 1900s that persisted until after World War II.

But despite this, people are drawn to our country because of our very nature, which I believe is deeper than these irrational and momentary surges of fear and oppression. From our founding documents that led us to become a beacon to the world to the physical embodiment of that beacon, the Statue of Liberty, the soul of the nation was described by the great poet Walt Whitman, who paid homage to the immigrant and the worker.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend celebrated Whitman in a 2011 Atlantic Magazine piece:

“I contain multitudes,” he wrote. He embraced the soul of democracy, its fundamental faith in humankind. He knew that the fate of each one of us is inextricably linked to the fate of all. “Whoever degrades another degrades me,” he wrote. “I speak the password primeval, I give the sign of democracy.”

The Texas Senate last week turned its back on “the soul of democracy” by passing Senate Bill 4, a bill that sets us back 100 years in our relationship with Mexico and with immigrants.

Texas depends on immigrants for its economic vitality, from those who pick crops to those who create technology. Following the lead of the current president, some Texas politicians are attacking the people and policies that have helped Texas diversify its economy and enrich its culture.

We have defeated similar proposals in the past, but this is the first time that we are considering the proposal under the backdrop of a federal government recklessly targeting immigrants and minorities.

SB 4 takes away law enforcement’s ability to set community-based public safety decisions while making each local jurisdiction liable for complex judgments on immigration laws. It imposes this liability not only on police and sheriffs, but also on nearly every entity with a policing component, like a university.

The presumption of innocence is a key tenet of our justice system. SB 4 violates this core American principle by imposing a presumption of guilt based solely on immigration status.

Probable cause is a requirement imposed on law enforcement to protect arbitrary denials of liberty. By giving detainers a legal status similar to that of a warrant, SB 4 violates the due process rights of Americans, especially those who “appear to be foreign.”

SB 4 also threatens the loss of state funding, including criminal justice grants that serve veterans, as well as victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. This is cruel.

Proponents say this is about “following the law.” I couldn’t agree more. Deputizing state and local police to enforce immigration – the unquestioned province of the federal government – is both unconstitutional and ineffective public safety policy.

Unfortunately, this legislation isn’t limited to Texas. Proposals are being made in states across the country, an attempt to capitalize on the anti-immigrant moment.

We will keep fighting. As our history shows, sooner or later, America wins and regains its soul.


Estamos viviendo en momento de miedo que se está proyectando hacia los inmigrantes y que ahora enmarca todos los debates de política pública sobre muchos temas. Los debates más recientes y obvios se han tratado de prohibiciones de viaje, deportaciones y la frontera.

Esto ocurrió en la década del 1950 cuando el Presidente Eisenhower instituyó la “Operación Wetback (Espalda Mojada)” un apodo ofensivo para una operación ofensiva que removió a medio millón de personas. Antes de eso, en los años 1930, una operación similar recogió a de medio millón a dos millones de personas, muchas de ellas ciudadanas americanas, para enviarlas a México.

Las actitudes y los actos discriminatorios de nuestro país están bien documentados, remontándose a los sentimientos anti-irlandeses y anti-alemanes de principios y mediados del siglo 19 y las mentiras viciosas sobre los italianos, rusos, chinos y otros grupos a finales del siglo 19 y principios del siglo 20 hasta el internamiento de ciudadanos americanos de origen japonés durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. También tenemos historia de actitudes negativas hacia ciertas religiones, incluyendo la antipatía bien documentada hacia los judíos en los años 1900 que persistió hasta después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Pero a pesar de esto, las personas son atraídas a nuestro país por nuestra naturaleza misma, la cual creo que es más profunda que estos impulsos irracionales y momentáneos de miedo y opresión. Desde nuestros documentos fundadores que nos llevan a ser un ejemplo para el mundo, a la encarnación de ese ejemplo, la Estatua de la Libertad, el alma de esta nación fue descrita poéticamente por el gran escritor americano por excelencia Walt Whitman, quien rindió homenaje al inmigrante y al trabajador.

Aquí está Whitman como fue descrito en un artículo del 2011 en el Atlantic Magazine:

“Contengo multitudes”, escribió. El abrazó el alma de la democracia, su fe fundamental en los seres humanos. El sabía que el destino de cada uno de nosotros estaba inextricablemente ligado al destino de todos. “Quien humilla a otro me humilla a mí”, escribió. “Yo digo la palabra mágica y primera y doy el santo y seña de la democracia”.

El Senado de Texas rechazó “el alma de la democracia” al pasar la S.B. 4, un proyecto de ley que retrasa el estado 100 años en nuestra relación con México y los inmigrantes. Ahora va a la Cámara de Texas, donde mis colegas necesitarán del apoyo de texanos en su lucha por detener la propuesta.

Texas depende de los inmigrantes para su vitalidad económica, desde los que cosechan la comida hasta los que crean tecnología y trabajos. Siguiendo el regimen presidencial actual, algunos politícos de Texas están atacando a las personas y las políticas que han ayudado Texas a diversificar su economía y enriquecer su cultura.

Hemos vencido propuestas similares en el pasado pero por primera vez estamos considerando la propuesta contra un trasfondo de un gobierno federal que está persiguiendo sin control a los inmigrantes y las minorías.

La S.B. 4 le quita a la policía la habilidad de establecer decisiones de seguridad pública a nivel de comunidad. La propuesta hace que cada jurisdicción local se responsabilice de juicios complejos sobre leyes migratorias. La propuesta impone esta responsabilidad no sólo sobre la policía y los sheriffs pero sobre casi cada entidad que tiene algún componente de policía, como una universidad.

La presunción de inocencia es un principio clave de nuestro sistema de justicia. La S.B. 4 viola este principio fundamental al imponer la presunción de culpa basada exclusivamente en el estatus migratorio.

La causa probable es un requisito impuesto sobre la policía para proteger a las personas de negaciones arbitrarias de libertad. Al ponerle a las órdenes de detención un estatus legal similar al de una orden de arresto, la S.B. 4 viola los derechos de debido proceso de los americanos, especialmente de los americanos que “aparenten ser extranejeros”.

La S.B. 4 también amenaza con pérdidas de fondos estatales, incluyendo becas de justicia criminal que ayudan a los veteranos y a las víctimas de violencia doméstica y tráfico humano. Esto es cruel.

Los proponentes dicen que esto se trata de “seguir la ley”. No podría estar más de acuerdo. Darle la autoridad a la policía estatal y local de implementar las leyes de inmigración — un área indiscutiblemente del gobierno federal — es inconstitucional e inefectivo como política de seguridad pública.

Desafortunadamente, este legislación no se limita a Texas. Se están haciendo propuestas similares en otros estados a través del país en un intento de aprovechar el momento anti-inmigrante.

Seguiremos luchando. Como nos muestra nuestra historia, tarde o temprano, América gana y recupera su alma.

« »