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Immigration and the Kennedy Strategy

By Fr. Robert J. Carr
Catholic Online

One of the questions that I get as both a Catholic and a resident of Massachusetts is how is it that Senator Kennedy keeps getting re-elected in this Commonwealth. The answer is simple; he knows his constituency and the issues that affect them. He may have a history, a reputation and radically liberal politics that shadow him, but he knows how to offset those issues with those that affect the constituency at the deepest level. Complain against Kennedy and you will hear someone tell the story of an action he did that affected that person personally.

"Hey, if it were not for Senator Kennedy . . ."

During 2006, it was obvious that Kennedy understood just how much immigration affected the voters on the personal level. Hence the reason why his name is attached to the Kennedy-McCain bill.

Polls indicated that the Democrats lost the Hispanic, the Black and the Catholic vote in 2004. These were the traditional constituencies of that party for many years. Alienating this group is a real sign of a party that had lost its way.

The Republicans shot themselves in the foot with two if not three of those constituencies with its hard-line on immigration in 2006. This, according to the Wall Street Journal, caused the conservatives to lose the Hispanics. The WSJ survey did not simultaneously check to see how much that issue affected those who were not Hispanic, but were concerned about the way immigrants could be treated. Further, the Puerto Ricans as well as other Latino-Americans, citizens all, understood that the pressure on the undocumented Latinos would reflect back on them because the average Anglo-American cannot readily determine the difference between a legal Latino and one that is undocumented. All would be under suspicion.

Brazil is the world's most Catholic country. Brazilians, although Portuguese speaking, are also Latinos and who, like their Spanish speaking brethren, go through great trials in order to come to this country legally. Listen to those in the immigrant communities from places like Brazil or other parts of Latin and South America and learn of how difficult it is to get a visa. One Brazilian sports star who has competed as a champion in the US for years could not compete for part of 2006 because of a problem with his visa.

What is most disturbing is that everyone knows that the Sept 11 terrorists came from Canada, not Mexico and that they were Arab and not Hispanic. Yet in the name of safety there is a focus on what appears to be keeping the Latino out of the US. After all, it is Canada that seems to be the greater haven for terrorists, but there is no wall being built on that border. What is that saying to the Latino community? It is also commonly understood in some Hispanic circles that anti-Hispanic sentiment is rooted in the nation's anti-Catholicism which came to the US on the Mayflower.

Catholics in Massachusetts were left with a decision for governor, for example, between a Weld Republican (social liberal and fiscal conservative) who supported gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research but took the Republican hard-line against immigrants and a Clinton Democrat who supported gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research but took a softer stand on the immigrants. Therefore, which was a defining issue between them: Immigration.

All politics is local, so preached Massachusetts Representative and speaker of the House, Thomas "Tip" O’Neil. Many upper middle class, white communities even among the liberals are vehemently anti-immigrant. However, the poorer and more heterogeneous areas deal with the immigration issue everyday. For such communities immigration was as much a hot button issue as the others. A hard-line stance against the immigrant in a poorer neighborhood is one against neighbors and friends.

The minute the Republicans turned against the immigrants, they lost strength in these communities because people saw what the Republicans did not: that this issue was the most local of them all. Further, there were related mistakes. Sean Hannity on Fox interviewing a Methodist Pastor of a parish, where a young Latina mother was claiming sanctuary against deportation, chided the cleric for not upholding the rule of law on immigration. However, the rule of law was the reason cited for yanking the Ten Commandments out of an Alabama Courthouse using a bulldozer and chains.

You can't justify the rule of law in one case, immigration, without justifying it in another, the dramatic rejection of the Ten Commandments. The latter was a horrible affront to people of faith. Again, there was an alienation from the issues that strike people to the heart.

The Democrats have ostracized a host of people over the past decade and clearly the most liberal and radical of them have alienated Catholics into the Republican Party. However, when confronted between a pro-choice party that despises Catholics and one partially pro-choice making plans to bring the government down to split neighborhoods and communities, the choice is for that which will least hurt people in their own homes. American people just do not want to vote for someone who will seek to run their neighbor back to the oppression or poverty from which they ran many years ago. Indeed, many Salvadorans are here to escape horrors like having a gun put to their heads as children by Salvadoran government troops or even imprisonment for teaching the faith.

If there is a lesson both parties must take from this election, it is that the rhetoric that demonizes the immigrant will turn off many voters. If the winners are smart they will ensure they soften the current US hard-line stance against immigrants especially Latinos, make it easier for good people to get visas, to come to this country and to stay and to benefit America without compromising the benefits experienced by the current American citizens. That is, at least if they want to stay in power.

After all, it is through understanding dynamics such as this one that is the reason why Senator Kennedy stays in power, despite his history, reputation and his political positions. He understands just how local, local is. Those long standing pro-life lawmakers who lost their jobs need to study his strategy and then use it in promoting the causes for life that benefit America even more. They have two years of homework before them, may they study well.


Catholicism Anew  MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Priest, 617 625-0029



immigration, Latinos, Catholicism, visa

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