It is easy to hate. It is easy to dismiss. It is easy to ignore people you never have to see.
The Montana Republican Party has long taken the easiest path to stifle any progress in America’s antiquated and unbalanced immigration laws. Party leaders simply label everyone seeking asylum or a new life in the United States as an “illegal” and blow the dog whistle those immigrants are all here to take your job. Then they can go back to their corporate donors and take money from the same people who employ an illegal workforce until they decide to call in the immigration agents to avoid payroll. (I have seen it happen.)
"It’s absolutely wrong that @jontester continues to pursue this hostage-taking strategy to protect illegal immigrants over our military, seniors, and children. He should be ashamed of himself for continuing to support a government shutdown." #mtpol
— MT Republican Party (@MTGOP) January 22, 2018
By painting it with such a broad brush the Republicans can then easily turn to this crutch no matter how compassionate the changes may be. This is the case most recently with protections for the nearly million people in the nation seeking citizenship under the DREAM Act. This became a political hot potato during the fight over the budget and Senate Democrats took fire for “caving” in not fighting for protections by using the government shutdown as leverage. For me, the Democrats did not cave but they took a tactical pause that probably will not pay off for Dreamers in the end and we will remain at a horrible status quo. Senate Democrats are messaging as much.
— Matt Rosendale (@MattForMontana) January 25, 2018
The Democrats in Congress are up against impossible odds. There is a recalcitrant Senate Republican majority and a darker force in the House, mostly the Orwellian-named “Freedom Caucus” that seem to oppose actual liberty at any cost. Then there is the White House, occupied by a man who referred to immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” (look in the mirror President Trump, though I doubt that is a problem for you). His key advisor on this policy is Stephen Miller, who took an interest in college to Montana’s most loathed immigrant: white nationalist Richard Spencer. So now, instead of having public pressure to hold against this cabal of xenophobia there is only the promise of a shifty Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky to rely on.
Obviously our own Senator Daines will follow the lead of his masters in opposing any immigration changes. It is easy for him and he gets to collect his largesse. Senator Tester, facing yet another re-election in Montana, played this close to the vest and said his vote against the budget deal was due to concerns over community health care centers in Montana. That was an inside-the-numbers bit of genius by he and his staff that allowed him to frame the vote as a Montana issue. Immigration, believe it or not, is not a top five Montana issue. It is a national issue and why sacrifice an election for national politics? I give one reason: this issue tells voters who you are as a person. It is one I hold dear because my story is one of immigration and every Montanan has a similar backstory.
It is the stories that matter here. These stories hopefully would have convinced Senator Tester to support the DREAM Act in 2010 and I made sure he knew how upset I was with him for taking a vote against these amazing “Dreamers.” I am as disappointed as others that he would not take a stand for the DREAMers last week or in the past. But rather than throw in the towel and call him “just another Republican” (so, so, so not true) we have to frame this for him. If this issue is as important to you as it is to me then we have to swing the electorate, not Tester. We have to tell the stories of these kids and now adults who have waited in fear and frustration to become the citizens they deserve to be.
I want to share a few stories that have taken me:
Laura Aguiar shared her life with the New York Times in an amazing collection of personal essays from people across the nation with similar stories. Aguilar lives in Yakima, Washington–a similar political environment to Montana–and graduated at the top five percent of her class. She only has a college degree because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which expires in March 2017 because Trump would not extend something President Obama did to protect the “Dreamers.” Without those protections, she loses everything she accomplished. Her only crime is her birth.
Alonso shared a short version of his life with Dreamer Stories. He lives in Utah and emigrated from Peru at age 11. He has earned multiple post-graduate degrees from the University of Utah and working to help other people with backgrounds similar to his. His only crime is coming to America to find a better life and make other people’s better as well.
Maria in Phoenix, Arizona stuck out to me because her captioned story was about the value of the U.S. Constitution. After coming her with her parents in search of a better life, America came through for her. She is a successful business owner and openly writes about how much she values this nation. Her crime is coming to country that we all have come to love just as much as she does.
I encourage everyone to find other stories that move them. So when nothing happens in a few weeks with the immigration bill you can be disappointed for Laura, Alonso, and Maria and make sure Senator Tester knows that. He and others in Congress and the White House are actively working to deport kids and adults that just want to join the military, go to college, or serve this country they now want to call home.
These struggles are just as “American” as the white waitress working three jobs to pay for day care and her mortgage. These journeys are just as “Montanan” as the white man moving his last possession from Colstrip because his job no longer exists. These are not stories about “illegal aliens;” they are about are you and I. Let us start treating our neighbors here and afar like everyone else and not as a propaganda tool for white nationalists to gain more power. That is the debt we owe these million strong with a dream to be truly American.