First off I want to say that I wanted to like Representative Bobby Bright but I just could not. He is a likable enough person when you meet him, he just seems to have no true convictions. Or at least no stance that he has not carefully crafted a fall back position on. Mr. Bright dodges responsibility and questions like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. He is a geriatric superhero with a superhuman "attempt to dodge" ability. He always seems to have prepared an out.
Mr. Bright said that he votes what his constituents believe and not necessarily what he himself believes. He is a Democrat but no one seems to of told him exactly what a Democrat is or how one should vote. As a Republican I have lost a lot of faith in my own party in the last few years but whether or not I agree with them on every issue I at least understand what the typical Republican is likely to feel about an issue and I agree with them on more issues than I disagree. Mr. Bright on the other hand seems to vote against his party on almost every "big issue." He is an enigma hidden within a riddle.
Friday I met Mr. Bright in Dothan at his Immigration Town Hall meeting. I knew the day was going to be "taxing" based on all the "I Heart Sarah Palin" stickers I passed in the parking lot. This was my first run in with a large group of Tea Party type people. I was actually surprised that while I do not agree with there ideology (and surely not that Sarah Palin is the best female Republican contender for a national office) the tea party folks were in general a likable enough crowd. They were not nearly as angry as I have seen them portrayed in the media. It was no surprise that not many of them agreed with any of my thoughts but they were all certainly respectful of my right to express my beliefs. Only one of them caused a scene and that was when he got up at almost the end of the presentation and stormed out saying it was 4 PM and he had to go (Maybe he was just a really big Glenn Beck fan).
Mr. Bright and several of the tea party people repeatedly spoke of the Constitution and the danger that immigration was posing to it. Are they not aware that the Constitution was itself written, ratified and amended by immigrants and the direct descendants of immigrants to the US? In fact one could argue that the Constitution itself in a twisted way encouraged immigration. The issue of slavery was too controversial to be resolved during the Philadelphia Convention. As a result, the original Constitution contained four provisions tacitly allowing slavery to continue for the next 20 years. In fact Section 9 of Article I allowed the continued "importation" of such persons, Section 2 of Article IV prohibited the provision of assistance to escaping persons and required their return if successful and Section 2 of Article I defined other persons as "three-fifths" of a person for calculations of each state's official population for representation and federal taxation. Article V prohibited any amendments or legislation changing the provision regarding slave importation until 1808, thereby giving the States then existing 20 years to resolve this issue. The fact that this was not done in fact led to the Civil War.
I also want to say that Dothan is a very odd place to be having a Town Hall meeting on Immigration. According to Wikipedia in 2007 Dothan had 65,447 people living in it. Of these 1.32% are Hispanic or Latino. Bobby Bright and many of the people in the audience spoke of Dothan as if it was being swarmed by illegals like they were mapquest.com'ing a trip from the US Border directly to Dothan. It was also sad to hear Dothan City Commissioner John Craig saying, "We’re being asked on the commission what we're doing about the people that are already here. What are we doing to get rid of them and once they're taking jobs and running our hospital bills up.” I think in Dothan many more poor people are probably stiffing the hospitals with unpaid bills than illegals.
Mr. Bright showed the very small crowd (60-80 people tops) a slide presentation that amounted to him smiling on the border, standing with various ICE & Border Patrol officials and a photo of him touring a contract detention facility in El Paso, Texas. It was like sitting through your neighbors very bad vacation slide show with way to much smiling going on. If it was a theme park then I don't think Bobby Bright made it farther than "Fantasyland." This was a Utopian vision of the US border where everything was pretty much working except for the horde of illegals lining up to run across the border to "destroy are way of life." Mr. Bright also thought that an already overworked US military should some how be used to secure the borders. I guess Mr. Bright is not really aware of the intense events going on in Iraq and Afghanistan that are consuming so much of the armed forces time (Wait a minute I think I saw a bunch of pictures of him in Baghdad on his website!).
Mr. Bright stated that he "totally agreed" with the recent law the State of Arizona had passed on immigration. But most disturbing of all was how he continually throughout his thirty minute or so speech on Immigration referred to illegals as "them" and "those people." Talk like this reminded me of Alabama's own Civil Rights history. Perhaps a politician from Montgomery, Alabama could be more careful or sensitive with the words he uses. To me the words possibly hinted at his own mindset and what he might really be thinking.
I originally came to this meeting without planning to speak. However after hearing all that was said and the continual "them" and "those people" I knew that I needed to say something. I briefly spoke to the crowd about my grandmother immigrating to this country from England by way of Bermuda and how this country was founded and built on the backs of immigrant labor. On how fear was being used and how that was not the reality of the situation. I discussed what I thought about a politician using expressions like "Them" and "those people." I spoke of my own employment in a Immigration Detention Center. I spoke about how illegal immigrant labor was used at places like Fort Benning and also even used to build parts of the Stewart Detention Center that houses illegals awaiting detention/deportation hearings. I spoke on how ICE declared an audit a "practice audit" after the Stewart Detention Center failed it very, very badly. I also spoke on the high number of sexual assaults in Immigration Detention Centers. Finally thinking about Roberto Martinez Medina who died at the Stewart Detention Center I spoke of the more than 100 deaths in Detention Centers in the last few years.
Bobby Bright responded by stating "If a person comes in to our country and does what we ask them to do, and they are legal, I don't think there is a person in this room that would not do what they could to help that person get a job," Bright said. "The problem we have here is this: We are entitled to run this nation in the way we have set it up to run. Immigrants should give us the decency to do what we say must be done to be a legal citizen in this nation."
Mr. Bright still does not get it. We can not build a border wall high enough to keep everyone out as long as we silently encourage illegal immigrants to work here. It is a very mixed message we are sending. Employers are rarely held responsible for hiring illegal immigrants. Many American businesses could not succeed without the cheap foreign supplied labor. Americans are more than happy to buy low priced goods that are only possible through the exploitation of illegal immigrants living in the United States. Families that are torn apart by ICE and immigration policies will most likely come back together, even if it means crossing an invisible border or one of the border walls that Bobby Bright made a political photo opportunity out of. The reasonable thing would probably be to come up with a fair path to citizenship based on an immigrants contributions to are country but I think many of the illegals here don't even want that. Many of them would just settle for a chance to live and work here without the fear they now must live under.
I will put it in terms that even Mr. Bright can understand, only by granting more legal options and/or work visa's for "those people" to work here can the immigration issue be fixed.