4:30 a.m. came a little too early.
But the alarm went off and I had to get up to catch my plane to Kansas City. Tony Weigel, the Kansas/Missouri AILA chapter chair, had assembled a very ambitious agenda for the day, chock-full of print and electronic media interviews, a press conference, and participation in a “Silent Vigil”. So, I grabbed a cup of strong black coffee and made my way to the airport.
At 10:00 a.m. when I got off the plane in Kansas City the first thing I saw was a sign, with an image of a twister, directing people to a tornado shelter. Kansas is famous for its violent storms and it did not escape me that although the sky was clear and the hot humid air still, a cyclone of hatred fueled by the intolerant message of Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio and FAIR’s Kris Kobach might well wreak havoc in the area if left unchecked. I was about to enter the eye of the storm.
Arpaio had pulled himself away from terrorizing the Latino neighborhoods of Maricopa County long enough to fly into to Kansas to endorse Kris Kobach, who is running for Kansas Secretary of State on a platform of fear. Kobach, you see, who is an attorney with FAIR, takes credit for co-authoring Arizona’s notorious “Show Me Your Papers” S.B. 1070 which effectively codifies the notion that the darker person’s skin tone, the more likely it is they are illegal.
So today Kansas City was ground zero for the restrictionist’s message—billed as a fundraiser for Kobach and dubbed “The Illegal Means Illegal Rally”. My mission? To make sure that that Kobach-Arpaio message of fear and xenophobia was met with the truth: that immigration is good for America, economically, socially, and, above all, morally.
The first stop was the office of AILA member and immediate past Kansas/Missouri Chapter Chair Roger McCrummen who had graciously offered his spacious new offices as a venue for television interviews.
First up at 10:30 a.m. was Marissa Cleaver, a reporter for the NBC affiliate. Marissa immediately zeroed in on Kobach’s central claim—that the Arizona immigration law simply mirrors the federal law and does not promote racial profiling because it merely requires that immigration status be checked if “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful status is developed during a lawful police stop. I explained to her that, to the contrary, Arizona’s infamous law promotes racial profiling by effectively requiring law enforcement to draw conclusions about a person’s immigration status based on they how look, not what they have done. I also pointed out that the Arizona statute directly contradicts federal law by criminalizing undocumented status. In particular, I explained, it victimizes women, children, and the elderly, who have suffered domestic violence, human trafficking, and other violent crime. http://bit.ly/9Z9FX9.
Next on the schedule, at high noon, was reporter Rob Low of the local FOX affiliate. But despite his station’s network affiliation he was neither a Glen Beck nor a Sean Hannity “wanna be”. His questions were, unlike theirs, fair and balanced. Rob was very familiar with immigration matters, in particular issues which involve the pervasive “culture of no” in benefits adjudications. We had a good productive interview about the destructive message of Arpiao and Kobach and how real immigration reform requires secure borders, coupled with a safe, orderly, fair immigration system that protects due process and meets the needs of American families and business.
Once Rob was done, Tony, Roger, and I enjoyed a quick lunch of sandwiches and salad, arranged by Roger’s hospitable office staff. Then Tony and I were off to the Kansas City Star for a 2:00 pm meeting with Matt Schofield, an editorial writer. Matt has just returned from several years overseas as the Star’s Baghdad bureau chief and was reacquainting himself with the current immigration debate—although it was clear he had a tight grasp of the issues. Matt was stunned to learn that generally unlawful or unauthorized presence in the U.S. is not a crime. In fact, he was so surprised he emailed me after I returned to Cleveland to make sure he had understood me correctly. I was struck by how successful the restrictionists have been at criminalizing and dehumanizing immigrants though their hate filled propaganda. If Matt Schofield, an editorial writer for a major newspaper, was under the misimpression that undocumented status is criminal, I can only imagine what the average American believes. Our conversation reminded me how much educating we have to do.
Shortly after 2:45 p.m. we excused ourselves and sped off to the St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Overland Park, Kansas where I was scheduled to give the lead statement at a 3:00 p.m. press conference. It had been organized by AILA and a coalition of groups who had arranged a “Silent Vigil” later in the afternoon to coincide with the Kobach-Arpaio event.
The media turned out in full force. The press conference was conducted against the backdrop of silent protesters holding signs decrying the Kobach-Arpaio message of hate. http://bit.ly/cAkIp2. At the last minute, the Coalition had been joined by the NAACP, which was holding its annual conference in Kansas City. The voices of tolerance and compassion speaking truth to hate were growing by the minute! Again the question of the civil vs. criminal nature of immigration law and, in particular, unlawful presence in the U.S. was raised by a reporter who had assumed that violation of the civil immigration statutes was a criminal offense. As I explained the law to him, I was again struck by how successful the anti-immigrant restrictionists have been at demonizing the victims of our broken immigration system.
Like a boot camp sergeant, Tony kept me on our tight schedule which had, as our next stop, a 4:00 p.m. on-the-air interview with Carolyn Long of KCTV5, the CBS affiliate. Luckily the station was only minutes away. So we left the church and raced to the television station. Arpaio and Kobach had also been invited to appear but failed show up. So, I took advantage of the opportunity to spread a positive message in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Carolyn and I had a great on-the-air discussion. http://bit.ly/9V3uIB
Mercifully Tony had built in an hour of rest between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. So we went to the offices of AILA member Sarah Schlicher who offered us refuge from the oppressive heat, refreshments, and chocolate in her beautiful (and thankfully air conditioned) new offices in Overland Park, Kansas.
But 5:30 p.m. came quickly and we were off to the last event of the day, the 6:00 p.m. “Silent Vigil” at the sight of the Kobach-Arpaio “Illegal Means Illegal” rally. The weather was hot and humid—flirting with 100 degrees—and I was convinced only a handful of people would come out in support of immigrants’ rights. But was I wrong. Hundreds of people were already silently and peacefully holding vigil outside the complex where Kobach and Arpaio were raising money. And despite the heat the crowd continued to grow. Amazingly, the NAACP sent two busloads of people to march in support of comprehensive immigration reform and in opposition to the Kobach-Arpaio message of intolerance. They came armed with signs that read “Hope Not Hate”.
There are no words to describe what I felt as I stood amid the wonderful, diverse, and hopeful mass of patriotic Americans who had come out in full force to demand action in the face of injustice.
At 7:00 p.m., long after I had shed my suit jacket and tie, Tony drove me back to my hotel and we talked about the long day. We had been successful in getting out an overwhelmingly positive message in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Equally important, a diverse coalition of people had come together and successfully blunted the message of fear, hatred, and intolerance offered by Kobach and Arpaio.