The Republican Obsession With Punishment

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Renata Teodoro and her mother Gorete Borges Teodoro

Photo by Samantha Sais for The New York Times

There was a time when Americans admired those who risked everything for a better life. No more. Today, Republicans are obsessed with the need to punish undocumented immigrants.

When I was a kid, there was something called the Iron Curtain. I was never really clear on where it was, or even what it was, but people lived “behind” it, and they wanted out. In my imagination, it looked like the chain mail that hangs off the helmet of a suit of armor to protect the knight’s neck from a lance to the carotid. I figured the Iron Curtain would have to be heavy, since people behind it couldn’t break through to freedom. But when I pictured it, it occasionally swayed like a real curtain would, as if the people were gathered on the other side trying to force their way through.

The one thing I was sure of about the Iron Curtain was that Americans cheered the people who escaped from behind it. Americans understood and championed their desire to live free.

In fifth grade we took world history, and I sorted out the metaphorical Iron Curtain and I learned about the brick and mortar Berlin Wall. This was years before Ronald Reagan would issue his famous “Tear down this wall” challenge to Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Back then, the wall was very much a symbol of how communists terrorized people who yearned for freedom. Searchlights. Dogs. Uniformed men with machine guns ready and willing to cut to ribbons anyone who would dare try to cross to the other side.

We were taught the Berlin Wall was the ultimate in communist cruelty, not because it divided one country into two, but because it kept family members apart, something America would never never do. We were taught we should thank God, (it was Catholic school) that we were born in America, where family was a treasured institution, where wives would never be kept from their husbands, where children would never be kept from their parents, where grandparents would never have to grow old without ever being able to know their progeny. This is the United States of America! Such cruel treatment could never happen here. Not here.

Arizona borderExcept it has happened here. The wall. The dogs. The searchlights. The uniformed men with guns. The families torn apart. America, land of the free, is responsible for all of it. We are the new Berlin, for one reason, and one reason only; for half a century, the men and women we have charged with making and enforcing our immigration laws, have failed to do their jobs.

Illegal immigration happens when a country’s legal immigration policy fails.

Take a good look at the picture at the top of this week’s column. That’s a reunion of a mother and daughter who have not seen one another for years. Gorete Teodoro has been deported and cannot enter the U.S. and her daughter Renata is undocumented and cannot travel for fear she will not be able to return. They have been reduced to holding hands and trading photos through the border fence in Nogales, Arizona, because of an American policy that is keeping them apart.

It’s come to this.

Immigration reform died again Monday. It was taken hostage by the House, and smothered in committee before the first ransom demands were even made. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Judiciary Committee chair, announced he could not support a path to citizenship, even for the “Dreamers”, the children brought into the country by their parents. Without a change of heart or a sex scandal that takes Rep. Goodlatte out of power, real immigration reform appears to have no way forward.

The pro-immigration voices will still make the rounds of the TV news stations thinking the bill is still alive and Republicans are negotiating in good faith. Pundits will continue to insist Republicans will eventually come to the bargaining table because changing demographics mean they need to begin courting the Latino vote. That is not at all the Tea Party calculation.

House Republicans do not want the Latino vote. They want Latinos NOT to vote. Republicans have gerrymandered their districts so well and so white, most of them are set for the next decade. Their plan is not to court the votes of minorities, it is to suppress them. If House Republicans have their way, there will be no immigration bill that adds a single new voter to the rolls.

Read: The Tea Party Vision – Allow Me To Say Out Loud What You Already Know.

What the House wants in an immigration bill is punishment. When they look at that picture of Renata and her mother, they don’t frown and think, “We need to fix this”, they smile and think “Serves them right.” Emphasis on “them“. If you doubt that statement, take a look at their rhetoric. Every other day one of them is out gleefully making my point for me:

Republicans’ only interest in immigration is to punish those who have come here illegally.

It seems like judgement and punishment are now the mission of any bill the Republicans take up. Take away food stamps, unemployment benefits, and health care from the “takers”. Punish gays by banning them from marrying. Punish “loose” women by putting probes inside them. Punish black people with stop and frisk and stand your ground, and minimum sentences to keep judges from showing compassion. Punishing undocumented residents fits right into their playbook – but it doesn’t fit America.

I know we cannot open our borders to every man woman and child who wants to be an American. But we do have a choice about how we treat the people who want to live here. Are they so different from the people behind the Iron Curtain we once rooted for? Are they so different from the people who risked their lives crossing the Berlin Wall? We choose searchlights, and dogs, and guns and drones and months in a jail cell. But we could choose compassion.

Is America so fragile we can’t allow Renatta and her mother to embrace?

Today, the imminent failure of immigration reform because of the Republican need to punish those who seek a better life, is On Our Radar.

Wall photo from Renata Borges Toredoro’s Facebook page

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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