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© Charlotte Fassler


The Life Work of Senator Rodriguez, Part Two

by Senator Rodriguez
July 12, 2018

This interview with Senator Rodriguezwho represents District 29 in El Paso, was conducted and condensed by frank news. It took place June 28, 2018. This is part one of an ongoing conversation between frank and Senator Rodriguez.

Senator Rodriguez Desk

Tatti: We want to clarify the immigration conversation, because what we’re hearing is actually a conflation of lots of issues, and I think it’s detrimental to a real debate about policy.

Sen. Rodriguez: Exactly, you're question earlier was, do you think that there was confusion about the various policies? And the answer is, there is confusion in the American mind. People in any place out of the border, who don't have a sense of what the border is like, what life on the border is like, the reality of border communities, all their impressions of border and border people like myself and immigrants are negative because of the purposeful misinformation that is being put out by politicians and others who are anti-immigrant.

There is no question that there's conflation of refugee versus regular economic immigrants coming in from Mexico or any place else, versus border security with regard to the cartels, human smugglers, the criminal elements, and the category of terrorists.

I think the government has done a disservice to the American public in combining all these issues, and they've done it purposefully.

We never had terrorists come through the Southern border. With regard to the Central American refugees, those are people who the public needs to generally understand are either seeking asylum or are refugees running away from violence or persecution in their countries.

Under our federal laws, long standing policy, international law, anybody who is seeking asylum or refugee status, can legally come up to our ports of entry and legally enter and make an application. They’re supposed to be allowed to be in the country during the period of time that their application winds its way until a final decision. In the meantime when they're here, they're placed with relatives, they’re placed with organizations that care for refugees and people seeking asylum. That's been the long standing policy and process until now. Now we are criminalizing people seeking asylum, everyday I see the headlines, including this morning, of the border patrol stopping people at the middle of the ports of entry, but they have a right to come over and petition, and they’re keeping them from coming over and coming in to petition. Then with the zero tolerance policy under Trump, now separating the children from the mothers, filing criminal charges against the mothers who are seeking asylum status.

In short, the government is criminalizing immigrants who sought to come in here legally. That's what the government is doing under this policy.

With regard to Mexican immigrants, economic immigrants, the long standing migration of Mexicans into this country because of what I said earlier, the demand for labor, what the immigration experts call the push pull factors of economic reality. We need labor? We welcome them in. We don't need them anymore, we push them out. 

With respect to whether or not we need comprehensive immigration reform, what do we do with people who have been here without documents for all these years? The estimates have been from 11 to 12 million.

Back when Reagan was in office the estimates were 3 million and President Reagan himself used the word amnesty. We legalized approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants here in this country, most of them Mexicans.

I did some of that work. Pro-bono legalization appeals for some of those who were eligible. A lot of my farm worker clients for example, who have been here without documentation, working for years, paying taxes, contributing to the economy, we got them green cards, permanent legal, permanent resident status.

We have moved from that attitude towards legalization, to a time when amnesty is a bad word for republicans and where we are treating everybody under Trump as a criminal, as a rapist, as a person that should not be tolerated in this country.

All of the rhetoric about immigrants being criminals and harming people and taking jobs away, has caused us to lose sight of doing a humane comprehensive immigration reform that we tried to do several times in the past. The latest one being back in 2006. We did it under Reagan, the Simpson–Mazzoli Act. It was the 1986 immigration reform, what was referred to the Simpson–Mazzoli Act because of the legislators in the senate that passed it.

We've always said that we were going to provide several prongs to comprehensive immigration reform. Legalize the people that are here already, that have paid taxes, that haven't committed crimes, that are contributing to society and of course I always throw in have learned English. Fine. There was the legalization part of it, there was the guest worker part of it to provide permits for workers that were needed by the farmers, by the industry. That was another aspect to it.

The third aspect was to look at our visa system and see what reforms we could make with it. If you are a legal permanent resident, you want to have your parents or your brothers or relatives because our policy on immigration has always been based on family reunification, family ties get priority, now we've gone away from that. The immigration system got so bogged down that they took 10, 20 years for people to bring a relative into the country.

We have gotten away from those because now any discussion about comprehensive immigration reform, even with respect to the dreamers, the republicans don't want to allow them to have citizenship status down the line. That's new. That's something that a lot of people don't pick up on. You guys should emphasize. It used to be that when we talked about comprehensive immigration reform, including republicans on a bipartisan basis, if we were going to do a path to a legalization program we were going to have a path to citizenship. It may take a while, but you were going to be given the opportunity.

Now, the movement on the far right is no citizenship. Why do you suppose that is the case? That is the case because they do not want to give more Latinos the right to vote. The Latinos can make the changes that need to be made in this country.

All of these things are now combined, confused, nobody distinguishes between an asylum seeker or refugee and an economic migrant and a dreamer. Or dare I say, the criminal elements. There's all these people coming over to do us harm, take away our jobs. That is an incredible shift in State policy toward immigrants in this country. We're starting to look no different than Europe that is trying to find ways to keep those economic migrants and refugees from coming into their countries.

The day before yesterday I was over there with the American Federation of Teachers and a lot of different faith organization, Rabbis, Baptists, Catholics, Muslim clerics. We were there for that last Sunday. We're going to go tomorrow. We're coordinating it for New Mexico State Legislators. New Mexico wants to do it's part and they’re bringing doctors and state legislators and Native Americans. A friend of mine who's a state legislator out of Albuquerque, filed a complaint with the United Nations and she wants to come with all of these folks and read it there at the port of entry and then come and do a visit with our Annunciation House over here in El Paso.

What gives me hope is that at these events, we have run into people from Canada, elderly people,  people from Florida, from New York, from Alaska. That is what’s heartening.

The change is going to have to come from the people. This government, this new Supreme Court that we have now, is not a place that we can seek solace. It's not a place that we can go and vindicate our rights like we have been used to. Even with conservatives in the court.

Once the new justice gets appointed, of the stripe of Roberts, I'm sorry here young people, but you are going to see some hard times in terms of national policies.

A veering to the right like we have never seen in this country and the way the white nationalist movement is going, and the racists in this country, starting with the President, are going, we may be be looking at past years in Italy, Germany, France and other places where people rose against the different people in this country. Whether your difference is color, whether your difference is your sexual orientation, whether your difference is your religion. I'm painting I know a very black dire scenario, but I'm a student of history, I like politics.

I'm a policy wonk and I know what people have gone through in world history and in this country and what we can expect, if we as people do not rise and assert ourselves.

Finally, your question about Beto and Cruz debating, I don't expect that Cruz is going to want to debate him on the immigration issue. If he does, he's just gonna stay to a very canned message. He files a bill himself to try to keep families from being separated so he can then in the campaign say, I don't support families being separated. Yes, but he supports the President block step and the President is separating families. So he should be held accountable regardless of what he says or what he does. That's my view on Mr. Cruz.