By Bill Mefford
I have been advocating for humane, immigrant-focused immigration reform for more than a decade and during that time I have received a steady stream of emails from conservative Republicans stating their heated disagreement with me because undocumented immigrants have “broken the law.” Once you break the law you are, in their words, “illegal.” “What part of illegal do you not understand,” is a common email message I have received, though usually in all caps and with various misspelled words. And what do they want to do with “illegals?” Throw them out of course because “illegals” have lost their right to be present in this country.
I was stunned this week when reflecting on the amount of illegal behavior being committed by Republican leaders while, at the same time, so little was being said condemning this illegal behavior by their colleagues in elected office. Nearly half the current administration is under investigation by the FBI, Michael Flynn has lied to the FBI, donald trump has committed some kind of obstruction of justice in trying to get former FBI Director Comey to stop the investigation of Flynn, and this week the newly elected Republican Representative from Montana, Greg Gianforte, violently assaulted a journalist and then had his staff lie about what happened in a press release. Yet, barely a word of condemnation on any of this while they continue to demonize undocumented immigrants for “breaking the law.”
Instead of demanding that Gianforte get thrown out of Congress because he was an “illegal,” they seem to afford him a much greater amount of leniency. So, I thought it would be fun to use the Republican approach to Gianforte’s illegal behavior to create how they would approach “illegal” immigration if only they would treat immigrants the same as a rich, white businessmen running for elected office under the Republican banner.
Speaker Ryan said the illegal behavior Gianforte committed “should not have happened,” but he should not be thrown out of Congress because, as he said, “who am I to tell Montana who they should elect?” Instead Gianforte should simply apologize. Thus, applying this to undocumented immigrants, Speaker Ryan should introduce a bill requiring undocumented immigrants to apologize for illegally entering the United States, but they should be granted immediate citizenship – no long pathway, no payment of back taxes, no penalties, nothing. An apology and then amnesty. Because, as Speaker Ryan said himself, who is he to throw someone out because they have committed an illegal act?
The Chair of the National Republican Committee, Steve Stivers, said the illegal behavior by Gianforte was “totally out of character, but we all make mistakes.” Thus, using the same measure of justice, Representative Stivers would also say of undocumented immigrants, that their illegal entry into the United States was completely “out of character” and a mistake, but he would certainly recognize that the central hope of undocumented people is to create a better and more sustainable future for their children. Unlike Ryan, he would not even demand an apology. Just amnesty; no pathway, no penalties, no payment of back taxes, no wait. As Stivers has shown in his response to Gianforte’s illegal behavior, he would determine that the character of the person outweighs the commission of one illegal act, so there would be blanket amnesty.
Republican Representative Duncan Hunter said Gianforte’s illegal behavior “was not appropriate. Unless [the reporter] deserved it.” Thus, Hunter would the most liberal of all regarding undocumented immigrants if he treated all people who have broken the law the same way. He would not only grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants, there would be some mild consternation thrown the way of the United States whose foreign and economic policies have helped create the flow of undocumented migration to the global North. For Hunter, he clearly would believe – if he treated immigrants the same as rich white businessmen – that the United States should bear the bulk of responsibility for creating the poor and violent contexts from which undocumented immigrants have fled. And undocumented immigrants should be granted amnesty for their “illegal” behavior. Just like Gianforte.
From all I have seen, not a single Republican believes Gianforte should have anything done to him beyond a mild condemnation, or the making of a formal apology. But they have an entirely different and frankly inhumane measure of “justice” for undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants should be rounded up in the middle of the night, denied access to legal counsel, ripped away from their families and communities, and thrown out of the country forever.
The sad reality is that Republicans believe in amnesty for rich, white businessmen who run for office under the Republican banner, but they have a vastly different approach for undocumented immigrants who have broken the law not out of anger at a journalist who asked them a question, but because they wanted to be reunited with their families and because they want a better future for their children.
Republicans want amnesty for rich white guys and harsh retributive justice for people of color.
This is a textbook definition of racism.
This is Republican justice.