Letter to the editor

Open letter to Rep. Ralph Norman

Mr. Norman, I am growing increasingly concerned with the way you use immigration to drive a wedge between your constituents. When we spoke early in your term as our Representative, I was encouraged that you asked how your office could help improve relationships with the immigrant population. I encouraged you to support the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide legal status to young adults who were brought to the United States as minors. You assured us that you and the President would take care of DREAMers.

Fast forward to the government shutdown this past December and your commitment to caring for and protecting DREAMers could not have been more hidden. You tweeted that the shutdown was “needless and reckless” and was about an “amnesty program for illegal immigrants” that sacrificed the “well-being of our troops” and “health care for 9 million children.”

Clearly, one can debate the effectiveness or rightness of government shutdowns, but by using such language you set up a false choice. On the one hand we can care about troops and children’s healthcare, or on the other hand we can support the DREAM Act, which you deride as amnesty for “illegal” immigrants. Words matter and stances like this don’t endear you to the immigrant population. They also divide your constituents with issues we can all get behind. Yes, let’s provide healthcare to children; yes, let’s make sure the US Armed Forces are cared for; and yes, let’s make sure people brought here as children have the opportunity to thrive and contribute. These aren’t mutually exclusive options.

As disappointing as this was, you have continued to use immigration as a divisive topic in your district. Most recently it was through your comments on Fox News where you set up a false equivalence. You said those who oppose immigrant detention simply want open borders. As someone active in many different immigrant advocacy groups that span the political and religious spectrum, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Those who oppose indefinite immigrant detention for asylum seekers do so for a variety of reasons. Some oppose it along humanitarian lines. If someone is able to prove to an immigration officer that they have “credible fear” of returning to their home country, they should be allowed to live freely in the community while the courts hear their case. It’s better for the asylum seeker, their families, and our communities.

Others oppose it on economic grounds. It’s a simple fact that it is cheaper to release asylum seekers into the country with work authorization than it is to detain them. It’s also equally effective. Nearly every immigrant released with ankle monitors or scheduled check-ins with ICE returns for their court hearings. These alternatives to detention save the tax-payer countless millions if not billions of dollars. As evidenced by your #WastefulWednesday initiative, I would believe this argument to be very compelling for you.

What you may have noticed is that neither of these reasons has anything to do with a desire for open borders. The majority of people oppose indefinite detention because they believe asylum seekers should be treated with dignity and respect. They do so because they believe that families should remain together. They do so because they believe asylum seekers can be contributing members of society. They do so because they want our taxpayer dollars to be spent responsibly.

Mr. Norman, immigrants have a lot to offer our community and our nation. It is true that we have very broken and outdated immigration laws. It is also true, however, that for many years congress has known how to fix the system, but politics have stood in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. I hope and pray that you will work to improve our immigration laws, not simply use immigration as a political tool. We need laws that protect the dignity of every human being, honor family unity, show compassion to those fleeing violence and insecurity, are fair to taxpayers (immigrant and non-immigrant alike), and secure our borders so as to stop the flow of drugs and trafficked persons into the United States and weapons into Mexico.

If we can achieve this, then we will have shown the world that America truly is great.

Rev. Blake Hart

Rock Hill

Hart is the executive director of the Carolina Immigrant Alliance in Rock Hill. The Carolina Immigrant Alliance provides low-cost immigration legal aid, community education, and other integrative services. Learn more at www.puertaabierta.org