The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Friday, March 31, 2006

Ringing the Amnesty Alarm Bell

Amnesty - as alluded to in other posts here and here - is the buzzword for those opposed to meaningful immigration reform. Initially, it was only bandied about by those on the House side but then Senate Majority Leader, and Presidential hopeful, Bill Frist of Tennessee joined the fray.

However, with President Bush pushing for reform beyond the draconian House (and Fristian) measures - and with the Senate getting ready to pass a comprehensive bill - some House members are reconsidering. As Charles Hurt of the Washington Times details in this piece, the waverers include none other than House Majority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.

And today, Hurt reports on how some Congressmen are beginning to play the backlash card, claiming that the masses will soon be baying for immigrant blood. Talk about following (or pretending to follow) and not leading. As usual, Tom Tancredo is dancing to tune of the mad piper, click here for a portrait of an angry man.

Finally, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank dissects the (ab)use of the new "A" word in this column:

"Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), behind a pulpit adorned with a "Just Say No to Amnesty" sign, thundered: "Anybody that votes for an amnesty bill deserves to be branded with a scarlet letter, 'A' for amnesty, and they need to pay for it at the ballot box in November."
Stand down, Hester Prynne. Adultery is so 17th-century....

But the use of the word "amnesty" -- more than 50 times on the Senate floor yesterday -- says much about the immigration debate. Proponents of the "guest-worker" path toward legalization appear to have gained the upper hand; Specter seems to have the votes in the Senate, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is rethinking his chamber's hostility to a guest-worker plan. Opponents, therefore, need to escalate the rhetoric and invoke the A-word....
(click here to read the whole column)

Off to listen to the Senators wax eloquent (and alarmist.)


Update: Just after I reached the Capitol Building, the Senators realized what I soaked up on my way there. It was Friday, the sun was out, it was warm, the cherry blossoms were blooming and thus, without further ado, they called it a weekend. But we'll all be back on Monday.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Swedish American Senator Misses the Point

Update: Senator Isakson's statement is now cited verbatim.

Today, as debate on immigration reform has begun in the Senate, I offer a little tale inspired by the words of a Swedish American.

It’s Thursday morning and Senators are rising to speak on the Senate floor – and they all do so as descendants of immigrants. And as Senator David Vitter of Louisiana just said, all Senators begin their speeches by detailing their own family’s history. So, here is one Senator‘s story and how it seems to have taught him nothing.

Johnny Isakson, the junior Senator from Georgia, rose to speak:

Mr. President, in 1903, Andrew Bengsten boarded a ship and left Sweden, the son of Isak Bengsten. He landed on Ellis Island and took the last name Isakson, which is the Scandinavian tradition, to take the father's first name and add ``son'' to it. In 1916, he had a son named Ed, and in 1926 he became a naturalized citizen.

He went to West Texas as a laborer, and later on to Atlanta, GA as a carpenter. In 1944, his son Ed and Ed's wife Julia had a son, who by the grace of God is me. No one in this body has any greater respect or admiration for this great country and our process of legal immigration than I.

As we approach the most important debate this Senate will encounter in this session, it is important that it be a debate of dignity and a debate of substance and a debate where we learned the lessons of the past and make sure that immigration in the future holds the same promise it held for my grandfather 103 years ago." (continue reading the Senator's statement)

Välkommen! Swedish for Welcome. This bridge in Lindsborg, Kansas conveys the spirit that greeted Grandpa Isak when he immigrated to the U.S. His grandson should embrace this heritage.
(c) All the Pages

The Senator went on to talk about how no one supports legal immigration – without which he would not be an American, even less a Senator – like he does. What is seemingly forever lost on him is that when Grandpa Isak arrived from Sweden, he was no different than the Mexican that crossed the border yesterday. Both came empty-handed without much education, both had a dream, both were attracted by work prospects, both left friends, family and their lives behind. And both used the available channel to enter the U.S.

For the fact is that today there is no Ellis Island and thus the Grandpa Isaksons of 2006 are automatically declared persona non gratas and become part of the undocumented, the irregular, the illegal class. If you recognize that fundamental fact – then you realize that the first thing the broken immigration system needs is another Ellis Island. And the last thing it needs is a fence.

As the debate continues on the Senate floor, I sign off with a few links with varying perspectives:
  • First, the anti-immigration/restrictionist/border fanatics’ main spokesman, Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado was on C-Span this morning (click here to listen).

  • Then, the conservative movement’s top pundit George Will offers sobering “non zero-sum” advice (thanks JH) to the shrill in his party. Yes, you can have your border cake and eat it too. But you can also embrace the historical legacy of this country.

  • Finally, the great immigrant city of Chicago has taken a stance against the Tancredos of this world. In the spirit of times gone by, the City Council has announced plans not to enforce any federal crackdowns on immigrants.

Chicago knows and understands immigration. In the Andersonville neighborhood, the Swedes of yesterday have been followed by new communities of Americans, Middle Eastern and Hispanic among others. It is still home to two Swedish landmarks, Erickson’s Delicatessen and the Swedish American Museum Center. May I be so bold as to suggest Senator Isakson pay Andersonville (and Lindsborg) a visit. There is much to learn about the circumstances that led to their becoming part of the American fabric. Maybe the Senator will see a connection to the present....


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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Immigration Reform on the Hill and Beyond part I

This week has seen a flurry of activity by activists, pundits, politicians, legislators and media in the immigration field. And most importantly – for they are part of the fabric and are rarely asked – the voices of the immigrants themselves have been heard. It has been mostly heartening and highly overwhelming trying to follow this. As promised, here’s an attempt to highlight a few developments. In addition, either today or tomorrow, immigration reform will hit the Senate floor, from where I hope to report.

White House Shuffle

Today, President Bush heads to Mexico where he will have a chance to discuss immigration, especially the guest worker programs, with his Mexican counterpart, President Fox. This marks an opportunity for the two to repair damage done since the aftermath of the September 11th attacks buried any hope of then pending immigration reform.

Bush has been pushing for the kind of immigration reform that puts him in the middle of his own Republican party, which is bitterly split between fear-mongers and reasonable folks. And on Monday the President got this immigration week off to an auspicious and highly symbolic start by attending a naturalization ceremony.

The venue was the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), an interesting – and fairly controversial - organization in its own right. But this aside, the event amply shone the spotlight on the role of immigration in the U.S., both today and historically. Without ignoring security concerns etc., it was a way to remind the nay-sayers on the left and right that immigration was, is and will be positive for all involved.

(c) REUTERS/Larry Downing

So in my book, presiding over a U.S. Citizenship ceremony at DAR of all places, was an excellent move. It’s always about politics, especially for a troubled administration, but that doesn’t make it wrong. As Bush said:

“For some of you, this day comes after a long and difficult journey. For all of you, this is a defining moment in your lives. America is now more than your home; America is your country. It is inspiring to see people of many different ages, many different countries raise their hands and swear an oath to become citizens of the United States of America. Those of us who have been citizens for many years have responsibilities, as well. Helping new citizens assimilate is a mission that unites Americans by choice and by birth….At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation. It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America….The immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and dignified way. No one should play on people's fears, or try to pit neighbors against each other. No one should pretend that immigrants are threats to American identity, because immigrants have shaped America's identity.”

With his pen in hand, ready to sign something coming out of Congress, he continues to advocate reform, waiting, waiting….

And meanwhile over on the Hill

It took most of Monday, but in the face of rather dire prospects, the Senate Judiciary Committee managed to put together a real immigration reform bill – this as opposed to the one proposed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. Under the guidance of Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, marks and amendments were hung out to twist and turn in the wind, shop was talked and emotions were put on display. At around 6:30 pm, a vote was taken and the bill passed 12-6, i.e. with four Republicans votes. There were reports of rare applause.
I cannot imagine that many readers of the Swamp are planning to watch this mammoth session, but for those who are interested, click here (morning session) and here (afternoon session with dramatic conclusion). Two highlight: 2 hours 1 minute 25 seconds and then 2 hours 44 minutes 25 seconds, both the afternoon session.

All I want to say here is that the caliber of the debate was impressive. For once the immigration issue was handled with nuance. The kind of nuance that is entirely absent in the House of Representatives Bill 4437, which was adopted in December. For more on that, check out Migra Matters’ excellent reporting.

In the Committee room, the most eloquent voices were those of Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona – on the more restrictive side. And then on the more progressive side, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts – whose concern for immigration is genuine and whose brother the late President Kennedy put an end to the pre-1965 discriminatory immigration laws – and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. It was the latter who uttered words that I will never forget. He reminded us of a simple reality that all too often gets lost in the shrill debate:

“…The 11 million undocumented people are also workers....we couldn’t get by as a nation without those workers and those people. And the question is sending them ‘home’. I would just throw this out for some consideration…what do you mean by ‘home’? ....for some they’ve been here so long that they can’t imagine that where they live is not home. And that’s the real debate here. Where is home and where do you want home to be?….some don’t know where to go, their home is where they’ve raised their children, their home is where they’ve lived their married lives. And we have allowed, rightly or wrongly, for that home to be established.” (my transcription, his emphasis)

Amen. Realize the positive and assume some responsibility. Watching his entire statement (the second highlight alluded to above) is very worthwhile, especially given his lovely Southern drawl and the fact that this was ‘stream of consciousness’ rambling. The Senator had just returned from China and his biological clock was out of whack. Then he went on to call the bluff of those hucksters screaming “Amnesty!”, the concept bandied about by those who oppose bringing undocumented, exploited workers out of the shadows.

According to the senior senator from South Carolina, the only real amnesty sought was of the political kind some seem keen to secure. He was referring to those politicians that are trying to have their cake and eat it too, “wanting the ability to talk about this and not make anybody mad. Well, I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen.” Exactly, show some leadership, folks!

And over on the House side, the HR 4437 restrictionists who stir up fear – and then exploit this by claiming to be listening to their constituents – are having second thoughts. House Majority Leader John Boehner is reconsidering his love for the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. It seems all it took was a visit to the border to hear how unworkable the idea is. Now, you would have thought that this kind of field trip would have useful before the vote last December.

As this analysis piece in the Washington Post shows, the road ahead is long and full of potholes. And in the next entry, I will offer some critical comments on the bill that emerged out of the committee as well as highlight the role of the immigrants in this whole debate. Their showing at rallies – and thus being absent from workplaces – has been sobering for those with their heads in the sand.

(to be continued…)


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Monday, March 27, 2006

The Dutch in 1910, plus the German Citizenship Test

To my mind, this photo - taken in 1910 - resonates with my last post.

It is of a Dutch family immigrating to Canada, arriving at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was the Ellis Island of Canada, and is now also host to a museum every bit as impressive as the one on the Hudson River. Please visit when you have the chance.

As for Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, she should have (re)visited them yesterday.


PS For the German speakers out there, I recommend taking the mini-citizenship test. The questions are real. Echt? Ja wohl! (Courtesy of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, click here)

I did pretty well, tanking only on the cultural questions - which seemed kind of arbitrary. No, not just because I was proven ignorant :-)

PPS Also found a Dutch equivalent: Nederlands speakers, check it out and report back to the Swamp.

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