Things That Matter

Dear Mike Huckabee: When Did You Decide To Turn From God’s Light Towards Hateful Darkness?

Dear Former Governor Mike Huckabee:

I know I’m not alone when I say I am deeply disappointed by your racist tweet featuring MS-13 gang members. Before you go on dismissing me for using the “R” word, that big, bad label us liberals give to people we “disagree” with, I need to tell you the basis for my very careful choosing of that word, so that we may both learn something from this experience.

Your tweet depicting a group of gang members as “Nancy Pelosi’s campaign committee to take back the house” was intended to paint her as a gang sympathizer. There’s no doubt about your intentions. You must have known how this would look to your base. You were attempting to paint someone who is a leader of a party advocating for the rights of immigrants who deserve due process and basic human rights as a being soft on crime. Even before the 2016 presidential campaigns, you and other in the Republican party have equated immigrants to criminals. President Trump is included in the class of Republican politicians demonizing hardworking immigrants for minuscule political gains.

What you refuse to acknowledge in doing this is the many Latinx Americans who are painted in a negative light because of your fear mongering. Those of us of Latin American heritage have continuously been flagged by leaders of your party as “rapists,” “criminals” and “animals.” It is no wonder then, that so many Americans are now open to the idea of putting immigrant children in cages. Those are the confines to which (dangerous) animals belong.

I know many of your ilk are quick to distinguish yourselves as not being racist. When you make racist remarks, jokes, or generalizations, you quickly point out that aren’t talking about “us.” You certainly don’t want to ostracize any potential voting block, no matter their skin color. But, you are talking about us.

Governor Huckabee, I’m an American daughter of a Mexican immigrant father and a Mexican-American mother. I was born in Texas and was educated in Ohio. I have lived among upper-class white people my whole life. I am familiar with the defense “Oh, I didn’t mean you” when defending a joke or a controversially demeaning stance on immigrants, especially those of us from Latin American countries. This has been my whole life. As a white looking, American-educated woman of Mexican descent, I have privilege that isn’t afforded many of my Latinx brothers and sisters. It’s always assumed in my presence that people with your philosophy are in safe standing when airing your viewpoints. I can assure you, that this is not the case.

No one you encounter is fine with this casual racism, no matter how well you think you know them. Anyone you work with, share dinner with, or meet at campaign events, who is a member of any marginalized group, is exhausted with being told we are the exception to your unwitting hatred. We are all offended. We’ve just gotten so used to being offended that many of us swallow our true opinions at the risk of being viewed as “uncivil.” We ought not be compared to animals, after all. And of course, you’ll find those rare exceptions, who will gladly go along with the joke, or make themselves a case for how they are different. Perhaps their parent was a refugee in the 1950’s, but that’s ok because it was a different time. They will side with you, making a case that there are those from “el otro lado” who have no place here with real Americans. Those people are the saddest among us. They are so terrified and in need of ensuring their survival, that they will sever any source of empathy, and reject the instinct to identify with their ancestors.

We are living in sad times. I know it hurt your feelings when your daughter was lambasted at the White House Correspondents dinner, and when she was refused service at the Red Hen. I wonder, as a parent, if you are able to feel empathy for your own daughter (and she for her children). How exhausting it must be to reject empathy towards all people different than you. To reject the sights and sounds of caged children, to continuously tell yourself it’s for their own good. How difficult and sad it must be to distance yourself from God himself, by inspiring fear in others. How terrifying and lonely it must feel to have the ability to love but to be suppressing every instinct thus in order to perpetuate hate. As the book of John (2:9) tells us “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.”

I want you to know, as a Mexican-American, whose relatives have fought in wars for the United States, and contributed as business owners, mothers and therapists, you are hurting us. When you attempt to make the distinction of “I didn’t mean you” to any one of us, please know that’s not good enough.

Racism is uttered in the very attempt to defend your ignorance. I’m telling you now so that you can see the error of your ways. You were a reverend, isn’t that right? Do you believe that you are following God, even today? Because I’d argue that God’s way isn’t separation, and name-calling, and painting whole swaths of people with one demeaning stroke. You know this to be true in your heart, sir. As a father, I’d have to assume you see the damage you’re doing to God’s children. “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

But, perhaps I’m being too idealistic.

Perhaps your brand of empathy only extends to your own children, wife, community, or, narrower perhaps, your political party, which you place before God and country. Perhaps you can’t be swayed by “civility,” which many in the Republican party have called for since Americans voiced outrage at the caging of innocent migrant children. Let the broken hearts of the citizens of this nation remind you of how to lead with love.

What I want to tell you, if you read this, is that we are already here, sharing the same country. No matter the language or tactics you use to stir hate and fear in white America with the threat of being “infested” or “invaded”, as your leader says, we are here. We walk among you and with you. We and the refugees from other nations deserve to be seen as human beings. If you cannot do this, I fear your heart will continue to plunge into the darkness you have begun to embrace.

As much as terrorists and gang members from other countries pose a threat to our nation, the seeds of hate you aid in planting do the same. Fear leads to hate, which leads to alienation, and ultimately violence. The same kind of hate and fear that led to the attack on protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. I implore you to turn away from the darkness and lead the way into the light.

Do not shirk the American or Christian tenants of due process, fair treatment, and loving of your neighbor (Galatians 5:14). God, and your Twitter followers, are watching.

Sincerely,

Sara Alvarez Kleinsmith

The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

Things That Matter

The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

New York Immigration Center

The First Amendment seemed like one law that would go unchallenged in the United States. With bipartisan support and the general consensus that freedom of speech is a tenet of democracy seemed to ensure its safety. However, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of United States v. Sineneng-Smith. 

The judges will decide if pro-immigrant speech that might encourage undocumented immigrants to illegally enter the United States is unlawful. The verdict could have serious consequences not just for migrants but for their advocates as well. 

The Supreme Court has a conservative majority and the current iteration of the Republican party has taken a rather extreme anti-immigrant stance lately, two factors which could heavily affect the outcome of the decision. 

The case concerns an obscure “encouragement provision” of immigration law.

According to Slate, a section in our immigration code forbids the encouragement of an “alien” to reside in the United States if the individual has no legal status. The case made its away to the Supreme Court by way of Evelyn Sineneng-Smith. 

Sineneng-Smith was charged and convicted of fraud by the Trump administration when, as an immigration consultant, she incorrectly told clients they could stay in the U.S. under a program she had already known ended. However, prosecutors also convicted her on the encouragement provision. 

The issue is Sineneng-Smith is being charged for what she said on a very literal basis. The fraud is the obvious wrong-doing, but now the courts will have to decide: are the words themselves? 

What if it is an undocumented person’s best course of action to remain in the U.S. without papers, which may be the case with our esoteric and fluctuating immigration system, on top of the implied moral conundrum.

“An advocate or lawyer now has to worry, given the government’s position in this case, that this language … may trigger criminal liability just for correctly advising a noncitizen,” Manny Vargas, senior counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, told Slate.

Advocates will be forced to second guess the advice they give to clients in fear of facing legal action. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Sineneng-Smith to appeal. 

Although the courts struck down Sineneng-Smith’s fraud appeal, they reversed the encouragement conviction. A three-judge majority believed the provision criminalizes constitutionally protected speech, therefore, violating the First Amendment. 

The judges asserted that the provision, “criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep,” and that it, “potentially criminalizes the simple words—spoken to a son, a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a student, a client—’I encourage you to stay here.’”

However, the Trump administration decided to legally challenge the 9th Circuit sending the case to the Supreme Court who could choose to either accept or reject the case. They chose to accept it. 

The encouragement provision provides “appropriate punishment for defendants who seek enrichment by incentivizing or procuring violations of the immigration laws by aliens who illegally enter or remain in the United States,” the government wrote in a court filing. 

The Trump Administration also suggested the 9th Circuit’s “hypotheticals” are hyperbole and that the provision is an essential law enforcement tool. 

The ACLU stands against the encouragement provision. 

 “Anytime you hear a government lawyer saying ‘trust us’ when our free speech rights are at stake, you should run in the other direction,” ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang said

Wang noted that there cannot be any discourse about immigration if individuals are banned from mentioning the subject on social media. 

“I write an op-ed saying, ‘I disagree with the U.S. immigration laws and I believe that ‘Dreamers’ should stay in the U.S., you belong here,” she said. “I can’t leave it up to good faith in prosecutors not to come after me and try to throw me in federal prison for doing that.” 

Vargas believes that the fact that the Supreme Court has taken on the case, coupled with the Trump administration advocating for the provision itself — is not a good sign. According to Slate, the provision is little known that has existed for years but has rarely been enforced until now. 

The only thing that’s different now is that the current administration has amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric along with increasingly extreme tactics to enforce those sentiments. 

“The fact that the U.S. is looking to get the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s finding … is an indication that the government wants to use this provision,” Vargas told Slate. 

If you’re wondering if the Supreme Court could really ban freedom of speech in a country that regularly bans people from even entering it, that banned couples from getting married, that fairly recently banned one race from using the same water fountains as another race, then you might be asking the wrong questions.

Cuban Man Sentenced To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

Things That Matter

Cuban Man Sentenced To 14 Years For Kidnapping And Extortion Of Undocumented Immigrants

Unsplash

The man who led a group of criminals to prey on and kidnap undocumented women and children in an extortion scheme has been sentenced to 14 years in prison by a federal judge. Francisco Betancourt, a Cuban immigrant, led a group of other Latino, Spanish-speaking men to target Central American immigrants, who had just arrived, disoriented, at bus stops in New York City, seeking to be reunited with their families. Betancourt would use his Latinidad to gain the immigrants’ trust, then, steal their bus tickets, and coerce them to get into a cab that would ultimately cost their families well over $1,000 in “cab fees.”

District Attorney Judge John H. Durham announced Thursday that Betancourt was sentenced in New York, New York by U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill to 168 months of imprisonment in the Bridgeport facility, followed by three years of supervised release. Betancourt will be 84 years old by the time he is released from prison.

Francisco Betancourt conspired with three other Latino men to carry out the kidnappings of primarily young mothers with children.

Credit: @TheWomensWatch / Twitter

“The victims included women, men, and children from Central American countries who did not speak English and were seeking asylum in the U.S,” according to a statement by the US District of Connecticut Attorney’s office. “Some of the victims planned to travel from New York to Connecticut. Telling the victims that a connecting bus was not available and that they would provide transportation, Betancourt and others coerced the victims into vehicles. The co-conspirators would then drive the victims around, sometimes for hours, and refused to release them until they or their families agreed to pay the co-conspirators an exorbitant amount of money, on average more than a $1000.”

Betancourt used his Latinidad to victimize fellow immigrants.

Credit: @migrantfreedom / Twitter

Betancourt allegedly fled Cuba on the Mariel boatlift that famously aided a mass emigration of Cubans in the 1980s. Prosecutors allege that Betancourt was one of the prisoners, convicted of theft, that Castro ejected from the island and put on a ship with other freed inmates and mentally ill people to Mariel, Florida. Betancourt has served two prison sentences in the United States since his arrival. 

His victims were often young women traveling with children. They were nearly at the end of a long, treacherous journey, often having traveled from their dangerous homes in Central America, through Mexico, and past the U.S. border. Once granted asylum, or strapped with tracking ankle devices, border authorities put them on a bus from the border to New York City. Days of traveling later, they have one more bus to catch before being reunited with family.

At times, Betancourt’s co-conspirators would pose as immigration officers to further intimidate the victims.

Credit: @icegov / Twitter

Betancourt and his crime gang could spot the families from a mile away, having been immigrants themselves. They would steal their bus tickets and immigration forms and tell them that they worked for ICE and had arranged a taxi cab service instead. With their contact information in hand, from their immigration forms, they would call their relatives and request a taxi fare (ransom) for $2,000. Often, the families didn’t have enough money on hand, and they would settle for hundreds of dollars less. Because the relatives were often undocumented, they would never report the crime. 

Half of the four-person gang of criminals have been sentenced, with another two co-conspirators awaiting their sentences.

Pascual Rodriguez, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, had already been sentenced in July to nearly 12 years in prison. Upon his release, his custody will be transferred to ICE, which will promptly deport him. Carlos Antonio Hernandez and Lucilo Cabrera have both been convicted in the extortion scheme, but are awaiting their sentences. Meanwhile, Betancourt is likely to live out his remaining days in prison.

Meanwhile, folks are pointing out the similarities between Betancourt’s crimes and Trump’s policies. 

Credit: Twitter

“Strangely enough, Trump is doing the exact same thing……” tweeted Raul A. Maestri, Jr (@itsgoodtoberaul). “Can he charge Trump with the same?” asks Justin Clay (@jclaywow32). “I hope that man was named Donald J Trump,” tweeted @LindaMadison10. Trump’s administration has seen an increase in privatization of immigrant detention facilities. The stricter the punishments placed on immigrants, the more money private detention centers receive from the federal government. 

Trump’s policies have drastically increased the number of migrants in detention and privatized detention facility political action committees like the GEO Group Inc contribute 89 percent of their political donations to Republicans.

READ: Senior Border Patrol Officer Gets To Retire After Allegedly Kidnapping And Sexually Assaulting Another Agent