My Turn: A lack of facts undermines writer’s piece on immigration

For the Monitor
Published: 9/5/2019 7:30:24 AM

Joseph Mendola’s recent “My Turn” piece (Monitor Opinion, Aug. 26) attacks Beto O’Rourke and all Democrats. He presents his writing as logical and reasoned. If it were, it would add to a civil conversation this country needs to have about immigration. However, though it employs devices used in thoughtful persuasion, it fails to use facts to lay out arguments about immigration policy. Instead, it attempts to create fear and sow discord.

I would like to counter the main points underlying this piece, that: 1) President Donald Trump is limiting assistance to immigrants so that those here legally can access help. 2) Illegal aliens will use benefits that are allocated for those here legally. 3) Immigration is concerned only with the needs of the workforce, and that racist policies are reasonable and acceptable. 4) Today’s Democrats are concerned only with immigrant rights because the GOP opposes them.

Mendola asks, “Does anybody, other than the president, care about people who are here legally who need public assistance?” He portrays President Trump working to be sure that the needy get what they need, as long as they are here legally. But is President Trump that caring? Here is a quote from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank: “Less than two months after signing massive tax cuts that largely benefit those at the top of the economic ladder, President Trump has put forward a 2019 budget that cuts basic assistance that millions of families struggling to get by need to help pay the rent, put food on the table and get health care. The cuts would affect a broad range of low- and moderate-income people, including parents, children, seniors and people with disabilities. Taken together, the cuts are far deeper than any ever enacted and would deepen poverty and hardship and swell the ranks of the uninsured.” Facts can be so inconvenient.

Mendola goes on to say, “If we continue to burden our welfare system with illegal aliens, we endanger protecting the benefits of those who are here legally and in need of services.” Here, Mendola does what Trump officials often do – conflate two immigration categories thereby creating confusion. Mendola should know that those here illegally cannot access federal programs. It appears he is stoking fear of reduced benefits and placing the blame on undocumented people, not an administration that is cutting the budget.

Mendola joins the tradition of “My Turn” writers by presenting his short labor and immigration history from the Chinese Exclusion Act to the present. He concludes that the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the ongoing actions of the Trump administration to limit immigration, are comparable and reasonable. To him, it is simple: People with a certain skill set are needed by employers and those people can be admitted to our country. Referring to the late 1800s, he writes, “the skill set meant a person with a strong back and a good work ethic. These are the people America attracted and they came from Europe.” This conclusion might be comprehensible if the discussion focused only on the Eastern part of the United States, but his statement and the Chinese Exclusion Act applied to the entire United States. There is an implication that throughout the country only Europeans had the required skill set.

If Mendola had peered a mere 20 years further into the past, he would understand the great injustice of excluding Chinese people from this country. The great technological challenge at that time was building the Transcontinental Railroad. The predominant and most admired crews were Chinese. At first, only white men were sought to build the railroad, but not enough applied, so eventually Chinese workers were hired despite fears that they might not be strong enough to do the work. Ultimately, the Chinese proved their worth and were assigned the most difficult and dangerous jobs.

Doesn’t it seem unfair that the same group that made the Transcontinental Railroad a reality, would, a mere 20 years later, be excluded from entering this country? Why would anyone support a national policy of excluding Chinese? If the East Coast was booming with factory jobs and the “skill set” was a strong back and a good work ethic, it would have been well worth it to encourage Chinese workers to come east and work in the factories. Only racism can explain it.

Additionally, I must question Mendola when he presents immigration policy as only concerned with needed laborers, work ethic and skill sets. That has never been the sole reason for allowing new people into the country. If it were, Emma Lazarus’s poem would not have been chosen for the Statue of Liberty. Regardless of which nationalities the poem was written for, it encapsulates an American value of compassion for downtrodden people. In this spirit of caring, we welcome asylum seekers. After World War II the United States signed international accords regarding those who needed asylum, and many Americans were and are proud that our country has done so. The meaning of history is often twisted when a full accounting is not given.

Mendola’s perspective is a radical shift from the general understanding of where our country has been and where it should be heading.

Frequently, those who support the administration’s ongoing attacks against immigrants trot out similarities between today’s GOP programs and Democratic ideas or programs of the past. In this article, President Clinton’s 1995 State of the Union speech is quoted. Though there may have been bipartisan applause at Clinton’s lines about “illegal aliens,” certainly all Democrats did not support that rhetoric. Proving that past Democrats have also resorted to glib rhetoric, rather than develop workable solutions, sets a pretty low bar for those currently in power in Washington.

This administration and its supporters seek to exclude all but a select few immigrants from this country. To accomplish this goal, they’ve resorted to a barrage of policy changes. In the past week, new policies include refusing to vaccinate migrant detainees and forcing those from abroad with medically fragile children out of the country. No administration, either Democrat or Republican, has ever sought to forge immigration policy by simply being cruel. This administration is unique with its family separation, lost children, secretive detention camps and attempts to redefine what’s needed for human hygiene.

Mendola’s essay supports racist policies, trying to put an intellectual sheen on disturbing ideology. It starts by accusing Beto O’Rourke of playing the “race” card and concludes by stating that “when a politician uses the race card instead of addressing the policy issues that caused the card to be used, that politician is a racist.” Mendola neatly concludes by declaring that Beto O’Rourke is the racist, not Trump or his policies of exclusion. Does this common practice of counter-accusation make sense? Is Beto O’Rourke a racist for calling out racism? Who is Beto racist against? The white people who decided it was acceptable to discard Chinese after their usefulness had expired? Is he racist against whites who do racist acts? Is that really what racism is?

If you’re in a card game and someone cheats, are you a cheater for calling them out?

(Glen Ring lives in Concord.)

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