I’ve been writing columns for over twenty years. I started writing for the Philadelphia Daily News in 2002. When it merged — to its detriment — with the Inquirer, I continued writing pieces until they fired me in 2020 for what they termed insubordination and I called “Tweeting While Conservative.”
I’ve also been writing for the Delco Times for over a decade, the Delaware Valley Journal, my own Substack, and of course, Broad + Liberty. And in my spare time, I practice immigration law.
It’s no surprise, then, that if you Google my name next to “columnist,” the topic I’ve written about the most over the years is immigration. A close second would be abortion, but the vast majority of my pieces have titles like “What Republicans Get Wrong About Amnesty,” “Trump Fails With Latest Immigration Speech,” “Why Immigrants Matter So Much to America,” and “A Reminder of America From Inside an Immigration Office.”
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It might seem from these titles that most of my immigration pieces tend to excoriate conservatives because of what is perceived as a “close the border/build a wall” stance, and in some cases that has been the truth. I am an atypical right-wing zealot in that I actually work with immigrants and understand that the black and white approach of “get in line and wait your turn” is not exactly feasible in the current system. There is, in truth, no line. And to be honest, there wasn’t much of a line for our ancestors who came through Ellis Island, even though we like to believe they did it the right way. If you look at the requirements back then, many didn’t. Also, coming over to find a job to feed your family was acceptable in the 1920s, whereas today you are looked at like some sort of criminal if you seek the same benefits.
But if you wade through my twenty years of columns, you will also see that I’m not exactly a bleeding heart when it comes to immigration policy, and that the people who come in for the most criticism are Democrats. Why, you might wonder, would an immigration lawyer have a problem with “let ‘em all in” liberals? Because the truth is, liberals have caused as many problems as conservatives, and recent history bears that out.
Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane.
Back in 2006, when George W. Bush was president, there was a real bipartisan push for immigration reform. I remember being excited that something was going to happen. We had Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Joe Lieberman alongside Republicans like John McCain and Arlen Specter trying to reach across the aisle and craft some sort of policy that would address the humanitarian, economic, and — most importantly — the public safety concerns raised by illegal immigration.
Even President Bush waded in with his own guest worker policies, although this was before the tragedy of 9/11 when the focus shifted from the economy to national security and immigration became conflated with “terrorism.” The sad part in all of this was that many of the policies enacted to thwart fundamentalist terror ended up ensnaring the victims of violence as opposed to the perpetrators.
I wrote a column about a program called “Special Registration” which required citizens of certain countries on a terror list to register with the immigration service. The irony is that some of these citizens were not Muslim, as with a few of my Lebanese clients. Imagine the disconnect when Maronite Christians who were here seeking asylum because they had been tortured by Islamic fundamentalists were told that they were going to be considered equal, under immigration law, to their torturers. It was a ridiculous program that resulted in numerous human rights abuses, and matched the Patriot Act in its damage to our constitutional principles.
It was a bipartisan screw-up, to use the official legal term.
Which brings me to the point of this piece. When I wrote my most recent column for Broad + Liberty about my trip to the Texas-Mexican border, I noted that zealots on both sides of the ideological divide had created a huge problem. Conservatives cannot ignore that we are part of that problem, with a refusal to include relief for Dreamers, a reasonable guest worker program, or indeed any acknowledgement that those who have been living here for years, paying taxes and not committing crimes, deserve some sort of path to legalization. The dreaded word “amnesty” keeps popping up like a bogeyman, and any thought of compromise is immediately lost in the partisan tower of Babel.
But back in 2006, Senate Republicans were actually the ones seeking reform. They wanted to find some sort of path to legalization in exchange for tighter border controls and enhanced security measures. Kennedy and McCain were the faces of this attempt at reform, and it passed the senate by a fairly healthy margin, 62 to 36, with some of the most conservative senators like Mitch McConnell voting in favor. Unfortunately, the GOP-controlled House refused to take it up, and another bill was passed that focused solely on security and didn’t address the humanitarian crisis.
Those who live in Washington get to play games with the race card and the xenophobe card, while Americans suffer.
The 2006 proposal would have eliminated so many of the problems that exist today, but the House was not willing to compromise. However, in 2010, it was the Democrats who torpedoed reform for the Dreamers, when some moderate Democrats refused to vote in favor of a bill that would have become law but for their defection. It is interesting how Democrats often excoriate Republicans for never trying to do something to help the most vulnerable, but it was actually the Democrats who put the nail in the coffin of the DREAM Act.
To be clear, House Republican majorities have always been opposed to anything that smells like amnesty. With their ridiculously brief tenures and a need to campaign every two years, they are particularly sensitive to the demands of their communities and recoil from any suggestion that they are soft on “illegals.” The Senate is generally able to take a more global view.
However, there are even those in the Senate, like the late and not-so-great Harry Reid, who refuse to cooperate in any kind of reform that would give the Republicans a PR win. Reid did not want a Republican majority Senate to look as if it was doing something humanitarian and commonsense. He was mirrored in that by his House counterpart Nancy Pelosi, who got a lot of mileage out of painting her conservative colleagues as bigots.
And that’s the problem, one that is easy for those who live in Washington and not at the border to ignore. They get to play games with the race card and the xenophobe card, while Americans suffer.
They want to deprive conservatives of a victory that might help their election prospects, even if that would actually advance some of their stated goals: legalization for families who have been here for years, compassion for DACA kids, improvement of working conditions for all workers, and safe haven for refugees.
In some ways, conservatives are at least more honest in their approach to these issues, recognizing that they will always be tarred with the bigot brush and nevertheless attempting to find some common ground that will, as I wrote in one of my earliest columns, “create real, workable immigration reform.” And I continued: “Democrats should do it, because they’ve always pretended to care. Republicans should do it because if they don’t, they will lose a winnable battle for the souls of the very type of people who believe in the conservative principles of family, faith and economic freedom.”
I wrote that way back in 2013, after a Gang of Eight of Senators, four Republican and four Democrat, arrived at a great compromise that was, again, dead on arrival in the House. Yes, Boehner was the speaker at that time, but Pelosi was not about to give any victory to the original orange-skinned enemy (pre-Trump) and allowed the GOP to be blamed for the failure of a bill that would have gone nowhere because it included reforms like E-Verify and prioritized skills and merit over family relationships.
In the end, the only people who win here are the ones who keep fighting to keep the other side from gaining ground. It’s a reciprocal victory, where politicians and partisans go mano a mano, posturing for their constituents and the cable news honchos who feed off discord.
And the people who suffer are the ones who are standing on either side of a divide as wide as the Rio Grande, trying to figure out why politicians of the greatest nation on earth can’t figure out where their interests end, and ours begin.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61