Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A moment to praise a few politicians.

I will confess that I am more often critical than complimentary when it comes to polticians. But then they deserve criticism more than compliments so if the shoe fits, wear it with my compliments. But right now I want to compliment more than criticise.

The US congress is debating immigration. There is a strong anti-immigrant feeling in the US which, I think, is only part of the growing authoritarianism which I believe is infecting the Unites States. I am very pessismistic for the US at this time. Maybe after four years, with a different political party in the White House, I will reappraise my view. But right now the sentiments in American politics are anti-liberal in the true sense of the word. The Republicans have given up any pretense of being pro free enterprise and pro small government. Those views are basically dead in the Republican politics. The mood is repressive on civil liberties and even the Democrats are still unwilling to say what most Americans already know: Iraq was a disaster.

So there is a lot of frustration in the country and that means a lot of people want to beat up on others. The fundies want to beat up gays and the conservatives want to beat up gays and immigrants. And some very oppressive measures are being discussed which have brought out hundreds of thousands of protestors. And my heart is with them.

In the middle of this debate three Republicans have spoken out with their own family stories. And they helped bring the debate back to a human level. I want to applaud Senator Arlen Spector, Senator Pete Domenici and Senator Mel Martinez.

Senator Domenici told the Senate that his mother was an illegal immigrant from Italy and was rounded up by the police when he was around nine years old. Her family came to America and stayed illegally. She was only a child at the time and was arrested when she was 38 and married to an American with a family. It took months but she was finally allowed to stay. But the day the men took his mother away stayed with him almost seventy years later.

Senator Spector talked about the difficulties his parents had with the language. They had fled anti-Semitism in Russia only to face it again in the US. But he says he always knew how people treated immigrants even then and feels for these people, most of whom only want a chance to improve their own lives.

Senator Martinez fled Cuba as a 15 year old boy and escaped to the United States. He didn't have permission to come but he was wanted freedom. He was without his family for several years before they finally managed to join him. He was put in foster homes and orphanages until they arrived. Now he is a US Senator, one of the highest political offices in the land.

That these men got up in the Senate and spoke of their own stories should be applauded and I admire them for that. They did what needed to be done: humanise the issue.

On the other hand there is one Senator for whom I have no respect. He is not someone I feel worth of admiration at all. That is Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. I find him consistently opposing freedom. His parents immigrated from the Netherlands many years ago. He is not sympathetic to these new immigrants. His response was that his parents would probably look at these immigrants and "they would be very upset about people who didn't do it the right way."

There are two problems with this absurd comment. One is that his parents are not alive so he is merely guessing and probably projecting his own views on them. Maybe they would say that and maybe they wouldn't. But considering the number of years ago that this happened it should be pointed out that it was far easier to do immigrate legally back then. The US government changed the rules making it more and more difficult and expensive to "do it the right way". The complexity and costs of applications basically cut out large numbers of people who would not have been cut off when Mr. Kyl's parents came to America.

People from Mexico, most of whom are decent and hard working, face years and years of waiting before an application would even be considered. That was not the case for the early part of the 1900s and before. It is dishonest, I think, to chastise people for not following the rules when the rules were changed. Mr. Kyl's parents faced one set of rules as did most immigrants. The current would be immigrants face very different rules with a much more repressive and unwelcoming government in the US. To judge the people facing today's rules for immigration against people facing very different rules is not only unfair but dishonest. But then I don't expect much from Senator Kyl. He is very close to the bottom when it comes to my appraisal of members of the US Senate and I have to say the competition for that slot is steep. Maybe if I thought about it he might move up a slot of two but he is clearly one of the 10 most anti-freedom members of Congress.