Prazis / Can Stock Photo
Prazis / Can Stock Photo

Tom Henderson: Immigration sweeps a stain on American honor

“Only Nazis get to be Nazis.”

I said that frequently 10 years ago, when my son, then barely out of elementary school, protested “the madness of King George.”

That was when he was feeling charitable. More often, he called President George W. Bush “der führer” and members of his administration “the Gestapo.”

Yes, President Bush and his administration condoned secrecy, torture and surveillance in conducting the wars they launched in Afghanistan and Iraq. But calling them Nazis? That went too far for me.

He was just a child, so I judged his hyperbole gently. Yet many father-son talks focused on how casual Nazi metaphors demonstrate a dim understanding of the horrors of the Third Reich, thus, ultimately disrespect those subjected to those horrors.

Guest Writer

Tom Henderson covers city government and social issues for the News-Register. He has been a reporter and editor for Northwest newspapers for 38 years. The descendant of immigrants, he arrived in Oregon as a refugee from Iowa.

Fascist mentality could never take root here, I reasoned. It could never start gradually, with a police force operating outside the usual bounds of due process, rounding up people and sending them to detention centers. People here don’t have to worry about being nabbed off the streets, torn from their loved ones and excluded from legal resources in a country promising justice for all, I explained.

But try telling that to Isidro Andrade-Tafolla.

He’s not one of those “bad hombres” President Donald Trump has been warning about. He’s an American citizen.

Andrade-Tafolla has spent the last 20 years serving as a county road maintenance worker in Forest Grove. His only crime was apparently being Hispanic when immigration agents decided to seize people participating in a September protest rally near the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro.

By all accounts, the agents refused to identify themselves or answer questions about the reason for the apprehension. The rest of us only know about what happened because observers from the American Civil Liberties Union witnessed it and were able to intervene on his behalf.

Such observers have their hands full these days, as immigration agents have taken to hovering outside county courthouses, waiting for people who might — might — be in the country illegally.

How do they identify these people? Could it be scanning court dockets for Hispanic-sounding surnames?

Trump promised he would deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants as soon as he placed a hand on the Bible for the oath of office. He said he would focus on “bad hombres” — those with criminal records.

So far, we have not experienced any mass deportations. However, agents have been staging smaller-scale hit-and-and run roundups around the country. In the process, we’ve discovered the “criminal record” label can be slapped on anyone appearing in a local courthouse with a parking ticket, plus any friends and relatives who happen to tag along.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is also pressing for legal sanctions against any sheriffs, mayors or other public officials offering “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants — that is, refusing to deliver them.

Oregon is, of course, a sanctuary state. The Legislature passed a measure in 1987 that prevents local police officers and sheriff’s deputies from engaging in the enforcement of federal immigration law.

State Rep. Mike Nearman of District 23, which extends north from Polk County and extends to McMinnville’s southern outskirts, is among conservative Republicans advocating for repeal of the state’s 30-year-old stance. But most law enforcement officials agree the law has a very practical, positive impact, in that it helps immigrants overcome their anxiety about reporting crime or sharing information with local police. Intimidating immigrants into avoiding contact with authorities clearly creates more problems than it solves, they reason.

Naked racism and bigotry were the building blocks of the Third Reich. I’d hate to see us going down that road, but sometimes I wonder.

Syed Ahmed Jamal learned on Jan. 24 what can happen under the auspices of the new regime.

The 55-year-old chemistry teacher was preparing to take his daughter to school when he was stopped outside his home in Lawrence, Kansas. Agents led him away without even giving him a chance to say goodbye to his wife and children.

A native of Bangladesh, Jamal arrived in the U.S. more than 30 years ago on a student visa. He went on to earn graduate degrees in molecular biosciences and pharmaceutical engineering.

Along the way, he switched from a student visa to an H-1B visa, which the U.S. offers for highly skilled workers. Upon enrolling in a doctoral program, he went back on a student visa.

At the time of his arrest, Jamal was taking advantage of a temporary work permit to serve as a adjunct chemistry professor at Park University in Kansas City and conduct research at local hospitals. He has no criminal record.

While he entered the country legally, and has since held a series of legal visas and permits, he twice overstayed them, immigration agents said in justifying his detention. In addition, they said, in 2001, he violated a judge’s order to leave the country.

This is the kind of menace that must be torn from his family and led off in handcuffs?

Such action is not about the rule of law. If it were, people being captured would be accorded due process.

No resident of the U.S., citizen or not, should be detained without a constitutionally adequate hearing in which the government bears the burden of showing continued detention is necessary because the defendant poses either a flight risk or a threat to the community. The government should have to demonstrate no alternative release conditions will do.

Immigration hardliners like to cite respect for the law, but that includes respecting due process, as enshrined in the Constitution.

According to the ACLU, more than half of all defendants in immigration proceedings, and more than three-quarters of those being held in secure detention, go unrepresented.

That is unconscionable. We need a system that grants all defendants legal representation, and allows judges to consider each case individually, on its own merits.

Children’s television icon Fred Rogers famously advised people to “look for the helpers” when things take a bad turn.

I look to Jordon Dyrdahl-Roberts, former legal secretary with the Montana Department of Labor, who quit his job earlier this month rather than providing federal agents with employment data they could use in tracking down undocumented immigrants in the workforce. He has a 4-year-old child, so it wasn’t an easy step to take.

“People have asked why am I doing this if I have a child,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m doing this because I have a child.”

My own child is now 22.

I’d like to tell him, “Only Nazis get to be Nazis.” But about all I can manage at this point is reminding him of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” a movie he and I watched together many times in his childhood.

These words of Chief Judge Dan Haywood, played by Spencer Tracy, keep haunting me:

“A country isn’t a rock. It isn’t an extension of oneself. It’s what it stands for, it’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult.”

For the sake of all of us, I hope we can stand for something greater than ourselves, and hold firm when it counts most.

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