Sunday, September 25, 2005
Kris Kobach at Sunday School on Immigration
Conservative Kris Kobach addressed St. Paul's UMC Adult Sunday School class on the topic of immigration policy. He's wrong, he's wrong and he's wrong. Still, very well spoken, smart and interesting, all good qualities in the man who might be the next governor of the state of Kansas.
I need to say I can only speak for myself. My opinion, expressed here, is not the opinion of St. Paul's, merely my own.
Mindful of his location, Mr. Kobach opened with a Biblical quotation - sort of. He said, in Exodus somewhere, God tells us not to move boundary markers. This shows the people are to respect national borders.
He might have been wanting Exodus 22:21 "Do not mistreat or abuse foreigners who live among you. Remember, you were foreigners in Egypt." No, that's not it.
Or perhaps Leviticus 19:34 "Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself." No, I don't think he advocates the Levitical position of treating aliens the same as citizens.
Or even Deuteronomy 1:16 "When you settle legal cases, your decisions must be fair. It doesn't matter if the case is between two Israelites, or between an Israelite and a foreigner living in your community. " No, I'm pretty sure Mr. Kobach feels our laws should not treat foreigners the same way as citizens.
But I think he wanted the following: Deuteronomy 27:17 "Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor's boundary stone." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"
How this applies to immigration policy, I don't really understand. But Mr. Kobach is a law professor, former candidate for Congress, and worked in the Bush administration on immigration policy. Maybe he knows something I don't. I just can't seem to connect the dots.
He spent the first twenty minutes of his hour talking about security issues. Turns out three of the four pilots of the September 11th planes were in the US illegally. Moreover, they had all been arrested, including the ringleader Mohammad Atta. But the arrests were on traffic violations, and the men were let go by the arresting officer. He then went on to talk about improvements in intercepting criminals and potential terrorists as they enter the US. It was not clear any substantial progress has been made on poor local-state-federal coordination. It appeared to the casual listener (me) that if a Mohammad Atta were arrested for speeding again today, that he would again be let go. (If anyone reading this knows more, please comment).
Security concerns are very important, but in my humble view, they are a very minor part of overall immigration policy. I am very concerned about the millions of legal and illegal immigrants.
Mr. Kobach turned his attention to the question at hand. He said there are an estimated 10 million people illegally in the US. He attempted to explain and then rebut arguments in favor of lenient treatment or amnesty for these people.
The idea that some people think other Americans consider certain types of work beneath them is insulting, he said. It insults Americans and Mr Kobach is offended. In his view, Americans are willing to do their own dirty work.
He further argued that the economic impact of having this type of work done at a decent wage would be minimal. He said words to the effect that about 5% of the cost of a head of lettuce is labor. If lettuce is $1.00 a head and you double the labor cost, it will still be only $1.05. He went on to say that illegal labor is a net drag on the economy. Although it is true they pay taxes like the rest of us, he believes the cost of government provided social services for them vastly exceeds tax revenue.
Putting the best face on what he said, he wants the work currently done by illegal aliens to be done by legal workers fully integrated into the US. He wants them to get jobs with health insurance benefits, for example. Who can quibble with that?
I wanted to ask him if any actual economic studies of the impact of illegal labor have been done. I suspect the ten million people he cited are not all picking lettuce. Many illegals work in construction and other higher paying industries.
And, I'm sorry, but the idea that a legal lettuce picker or fast-food clerk has health insurance is ludicrously out of touch with reality. (There are 45 million citizens without health insurance).
Mr. Kobach brought up the equity issue with amnesty. He correctly pointed out that large numbers of people immigrate legally to the US, although it is not as quck as paying a coyote to smuggle them across the border. He said it is unfair to the legal immigrants, who have waited patiently, and those who still wait, to reward law-breakers with amnesty.
In my view, that's the problem with amnesty, mercy, and forgiveness in general. If you forgive a sin, if you welcome the prodigal son, someone else who followed all the rules will see that as unfair. Christianity is unique among religions in that it offers unearned forgiveness. (A subject I hope to fully explore someday).
He then went on to talk about the "famous" lawsuit. Not long ago, the state legislature of Kansas passed a law that allows the children of illegal immigrants access to state higher education at in-state tuition rates, if they can show they attended a Kansas high school for the previous three years. Mr. Kobach represented a group of out-of-state parents who sued. He said this violates a federal statute passed in 1996, that prohibits states from giving illegal aliens any benefits not available to citizens. Apparently only eight other states, including California, offer in-state tuition to their high school graduates who happen to be illegal aliens.
Professor Kobach made a very interesting point: the minor children of illegal aliens break no US law simply by being here. They are assumed to be in the custody of their parents, thus not here by any choice or fault of their own. Once they turn age 18, they are breaking the law. If they remain here for four years, they commit a federal felony offense. Thus, they can never be hired in the US at an appropriate job, because employers at that level always check the status of new hires.
He advises children in that position to return to the country of origin and apply for a student visa. He said the wait is up to a year, but they could eventually graduate and possibly get a good job if they followed that advice. It actually sounded like pretty good lawyerly advice.
He did mention part of the problem with immigration policy stems from excessive paperwork, wait times, and other related issues. He mentioned one spouse who was waiting eight years (I think that's what he said) to immigrate to the US and join her husband.
He then opened the floor to questions.
A woman who is likely someone's grandmother, a woman I'd never seen before, someone who came just to see Kobach, asked him a question. She asked him to comment on opposition to the Bush policies and motives, and specifically mentioned the ACLU. At first he misheard the question, and started to talk about "voters."
"No," said the woman, "motives."
He talked a little in general about arguments against the policy of the administration. I have to admire his restraint: he said nothing or very little about motives. He is very skilled, and I'm willing to think he possesses a certain kind of fair-mindedness.
In rhetoric, a common ploy is to attack the person of an opponent. This is used because the attacker cannot defend ideas on their own merits, so must assassinate the reputation and character of the opposition. In logic, this is called "ad hominem" attack, and is always flawed as argument.
So whether from actual fair-mindedness, absent mindedness or because of skill at appearing to be fair, Mr. Kobach did not stoop to this type of attack, despite the open invitation from somebody's grandma. I'm very glad.
In my opinion, St. Paul's in Lenexa is a somewhat liberal church. We practice inclusion and seek to find common ground. After the talk by Mr Kobach, several people told me they were glad I'd invited him. Now we more clearly understand our differences.
My hope is we can move from understanding to finding mutually acceptable ways to resolve differences. Only by talking together, by trying to really understand, can we work together to solve problems. We have to admit these problems are too big for either side on the issues to solve without the other side's help.
Next week - the other side of immigration policy, presented by Melinda Lewis of El Centro.
Links to this post: