America the beautiful, now America the ugly under Trump

 

MCALLEN, TX – JUNE 12: U.S. Border Patrol agents ask a group of Central American asylum seekers to remove hair bands and weddding rings before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. The immigrant families were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

 

So, this is our America.

We’re now a country that gives cover and comfort to white supremacists who publicly slur Jews, African Americans and Latinos.

We’re a nation that defends extremes in gun regulation, even as our children and families are gunned down in our classrooms and churches by persons armed with weapons of war.

We’re a government that paints Muslims with a broad – and ugly – brush.

We’re a sovereign power that wants immigrant kids who grew up in our neighborhoods, have made us proud with academic accomplishments or service in our armed forces, to be exiled to the shadows of our cities or other countries because they lack legal papers or citizenship.

And we’re a country that rips migrant children from the protective, loving arms of their parents.

This is what America has become under the leadership of President Donald Trump. And it’s an America that we the people have endorsed with our votes, legal and justice systems, apathy and void of moral clarity.

Trump might have conceived it, but we now must own it.

That hard dose of reality reverberates in the voices of crying children seized at the Mexico-United States border.

Between May 5 and June 9, more than 2,300 children were separated from parents or adults with whom they were traveling, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Family separations are the result of Trump’s new zero tolerance policy, which refers all border crossings for federal prosecution, even though many migrants crossing the border illegally, mostly from Central America, are seeking asylum.

Up to this week, the public had a limited view of the impact of forced separations on the children. That changed when the nonprofit journalism organization ProPublica published what it said was a recording made inside one of the U.S. government facilities where children taken from their parents are housed.

We heard the raw, unfiltered cries of children calling out in Spanish for “Daddy!” and “Mommy!” We heard children sobbing deeply. We heard a girl repeatedly pleading with adults to call her aunt, whose phone number she had memorized.

RELATED: Hear children recently separated from their parents

“My mommy says I’ll go with my aunt and that she’ll come to pick me up there as quickly as possible.”

ProPublica identified her as a six-year-old from El Salvador.

That was gut wrenching. But then we learned of the “tender-age” facilities across Texas set up by the federal government to house infants, toddlers and young kids.

In simple but powerful words, radio commentator Dave Ross for Seattle’s KIRO-FM brought into focus how far we’ve strayed from President Ronald Reagan’s America as a “shining city on a hill.” How far removed we are from the hope the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed in speeches that cited the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan.

Ross said: “Those are American border agents, trained in America, paid by American taxpayers, following orders from an administration that ran on this policy and was elected by Americans!

“This is who we are now!

“I’m sure we very much would like to be a ‘beacon of hope to the world,’ but that brought too many strangers banging on the door. And so it appears we will snuff out that light and change the locks, at least for now.”

Though Trump officials strongly defended the policy and – unbelievably — justified it with Scripture, officials now appear to be moving away from family separations, no doubt because of rising public pressure, including from the president’s own Republican Party leaders, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

On Wednesday, Trump said he would sign an executive order that would end the process of separating children from families after they are detained crossing the border illegally, the Associated Press reported.

“We want to keep families together. It’s very important,” Trump told reporters during a White House meeting with members of Congress.

READ ALSO: In reversal, Trump signs order stopping family separations.

It seems the cries of children melted America’s indifference – at least for the moment.

The issue is not fully settled. Family units will be kept together, but in detention facilities. Also, there remains a serious question about whether migrants fleeing violence and political persecution in their countries will be fairly handled by our courts regarding asylum claims. Instead, we might see them, and their children, swiftly deported by Trump policies that make it tougher to win asylum.

The U.S. should have secure borders. But Trump’s (and now our) America is an eternity away from an Ellis Island that once welcomed poor immigrants from across the globe.

Some no doubt will say that America never was perfect. That is true. But the nation was continually struggling to perfect its imperfections and address past wrongs. It had thought-leaders in Susan B. Anthony, who led the movement to win the vote for women; and Eleanor Roosevelt who tackled racism by flying with black pilots at Tuskegee Institute during WWII, when the military was segregated; her husband, FDR, took on the Nazis in Germany; Thurgood Marshall, was a fearless champion for racial and social justice. There were so many Americans who stood tall for our values.

That is the truly scary thing about today’s America in which hope is being strangled by fear, bigotry, intolerance and apathy. We are becoming desensitized to the pain and suffering of neighbors and strangers alike.

Our hope – and future – relies on rebuilding America humanely and sanely. If we do that, we rebuild ourselves.

Behind the Latino appreciation for Anthony Bourdain

Notes, photographs and flowers are left in memory of Anthony Bourdain at the closed location of Brasserie Les Halles, where Bourdain used to work as the executive chef, Friday in New York City. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Among the many tributes and condolences pouring in for Anthony Bourdain, Scott Kelly’s surely came from the rarefied heights. The retired astronaut tweeted that he watched the master storyteller’s shows from space because they pulled him closer to humanity.

“It made me feel more connected to the planet, its people and cultures and made my time there more palatable,” he said.

From his heavenly vantage point in space, Kelly said, Bourdain inspired him “to see the world up close.”

When we struggled to make sense of a world where difference is not tolerated but vilified, Bourdain, a hero of curiosity, someone said, taught us that the unknown was something to embrace and enjoy. Adventure was his muse. Sharing a meal and a drink was a means to connect and to discover we have more in common than we might think.

His travels around the globe, he said, had enriched him by showing him how other people live. “How hard their lives are, how big the world is,” he told CBS in a recent interview.

Bourdain was a champion of the marginalized. If you’re Mexican-American or Mexican or Latino – or even if you’re not – you have seen and heard accolades for his eloquent and irreverent public defense of Mexican immigrants and his appreciation for Mexican culture that reached broadly beyond just its cuisine.

In a famous 2014 essay that’s been shared widely in Latino circles, he wrote:

“As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy — the restaurant business as we know it — in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are ‘stealing American jobs.’ But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had one American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position — or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, provably, simply won’t do.”

Bourdain said he was grateful for the skilled Mexican cooks and kitchen workers who toiled in obscurity but were generous just the same, showing the new, celebrated chef the ropes, imparting the knowledge they had worked long and hard to acquire.

“In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, was there — and on the case — when the cooks more like me, with backgrounds like mine — ran away to go skiing or surfing — or simply ‘flaked.’”

The Mexican workers Bourdain stood up for get a raw deal. Working diligently in back kitchens and behind the scenes, but unappreciated, they are unwittingly yanked into the spotlight when their people are vilified as “criminals” and “rapists” overrunning our border, flooding our cities with drugs, taking jobs from Americans. In that narrative, they become something less than the rest of us.

Oh, and about those drugs, Bourdain wrote: “We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but ‘we’ as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them — and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them … In the service of our appetites, we spend billions and billions of dollars each year on Mexican drugs — while at the same time spending billions and billions more trying to prevent those drugs from reaching us.”

In daring to call out American hypocrisy over illegal immigration, Bourdain spoke bravely and with unflinching honesty, as much or more than any other American celebrity. The double standard is that this is a country that puts out the hiring sign to employ millions of unauthorized workers, yet spends billions to keep them out. To call that out is to risk self-inflicted wounds from the likes of those who cry, “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” Bourdain surely knew the risk — and was a willful defender of the immigrant workers he came to know.

Yes, that is why after learning of Bourdain’s death, some Latinos gravitated to social media to express their admiration for Bourdain, who dared to confront stereotypes and rhetorical talking points to present human beings and immigrant workers in a different light — with dignity.

 

Yes, we speak English in America – and 350 other languages too

Lawyer Aaron Schlossberg, center, who ranted against people speaking Spanish in a Midtown restaurant, takes a cellphone video of reporters taking his video as he leaves his home in New York on May 17. (Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News/TNS)

Speaking Spanish – something 40 million Americans do – is all over the news.

When a Manhattan man went on a racially charged rant last week after hearing restaurant employees speaking Spanish, he said repeatedly, “It’s America.”

You get the message — ‘This is America, we speak English here.’

He’s right, of course, we do speak English in America, but that’s not all — we also speak over 350 different languages at home, according to a census report. Indeed, more than 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home, the 2015 report found.

We are a nation of immigrants, after all.

True, most Americans speak only English at home or a few other languages like Spanish or Chinese or Vietnamese. Still, the data reveals the breathtaking range of language diversity in the U.S., the census said.

Take New York City, where the xenophobic meltdown occurred and where more than 1 in 3 metro area residents speak a language other than English. More than 200 languages are spoken by the 8.6 million people who live there, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted.

“They’re all New Yorkers and they’re all welcome here,” he said.

As the nation goes, so goes Austin, where se habla Español. About 358,000 people age 5 and over – out of a total metro area population of 1.65 million — speak Spanish at home. In all, slightly more than 27 percent of Austin metro area residents spoke a language other than English. After Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese topped the list of other languages spoken here.

Spanish was tops as well among the other 350 languages spoken in the U.S., according to the census, which gleaned data collected from 2009 to 2013.

Other top languages spoken, in order of ranking, were:

Chinese

Tagalog

Vietnamese

French (including Patois and Cajun)

Korean

German

Arabic languages.

Spanish vaulted into the national consciousness again the other day when a U.S. Border Patrol agent detained two women, both U.S. citizens, in Montana simply for speaking Spanish. Caught on video, the incident went viral on social media.

“Speaking Spanish is very unheard of up here,” the agent told the women, attempting to explain why he stopped them but neglecting to state the obvious – speaking Spanish is not a crime.

He’s right that in Montana seldom is heard a Spanish word. In the entire state – its 1.05 million population is hardly bigger than the city of Austin’s — only about 1.5 percent of residents speak Spanish.

The irony? Montana is literally Spanish, coming from the word montaña, which means mountain.

Why adding a citizenship question on the census should concern you

The news that the Trump administration plans to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census is triggering outrage and pushback from Washington to Austin, starting the clock on what surely will be drawn-out legal and political battles across the country. California has filed a legal challenge and other states – but not Texas – are threatening to sue.

RELATED: Citizenship question will hurt Texas, Democrats say

Some critics see malevolent motives in the change, accusing the administration of trying to hurt immigrants, Latinos and Democrats.

“I can guarantee you this will have a chilling effect (on census response) and that’s what the administration wants,” said City Council Member Greg Casar, who represents District 4 in North Austin, which he said has one of the city’s highest immigrant populations and is already undercounted by the census.

Ann Beeson, the CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities,  said the citizenship question is designed to drive down Latino participation in the census, which is mandated by the Constitution.

Asking about citizenship status “is an ill-conceived scare tactic,” she said in a statement.

Immigrant advocates like the group America’s Voice likened the change to the second blow of a one-two punch, the first being the implementation of SB 4 in Texas. Asking about citizenship, they said, will further drive immigrant families into the shadows.

Why all the fuss over a simple question, you might be asking? And if I’m a citizen, why should I care anyway? Simply put, the answer is because the census is a big deal and the results affect us all.

The federal government uses the decennial count for redrawing boundaries, such as for House seats and City Council districts, and for deciding the number of representatives each state gets in Congress, for example. Texas has 36 congressional seats and it’s speculated the state might gain seats after the new census count. How many will be determined by the count.

“If you don’t get counted, you are given less representation at the political level,” Casar told me. About 1 in 3 residents in District 4 are immigrants and over 2 in 3 are renters, he said.

“Census officials will tell you that if your first language is not English, if you have lower levels of education, if you’re a person of color and if you move frequently, those are all factors that lead to undercounting,” Casar said.

Moreover, the government uses census results to decide how to distribute $675 billion in federal monies to cities and states, city of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson told me. That’s money for everything from highways to Head Start to mental health support services to programs for the elderly, to name just a few.

“This affects the size of your child’s classroom, Pell grants, food stamps, the level of services a community gets,” added Casar.

RELATED: What you need to know about the census’ citizenship question 

Like other big cities across the country, Austin wants to get its fair slice of that federal pot. Doing so requires getting a full and accurate census count. But Robinson, who is the city’s liaison for the national census, and others worry that the citizenship question will scare immigrants, including those who are here legally, from answering the census questionnaire, leading to an undercount and resulting in less money for Austin.

“It’s going to be harder to get a good count (of immigrants),” Robinson said. “Even before adding the citizenship question, it was already difficult … It goes back to this notion of fear, trust and cultural differences.”

While most Americans might consider the census a nuisance at worst, for immigrants and refugees, a representative of the federal government knocking at the door can send fear throughout the household, Robinson said.

Even immigrants who are U.S. citizens or are in the country legally might balk at answering the census because some members of their family might not have legal status, critics say.

According to Robinson, about 18 percent of the city of Austin’s population is foreign-born, a number that includes citizens and immigrants here legally. That translates to about 180,000 people. About 320,000 people living in the wider Austin metro area are foreign-born.

About one out of six Texas residents was born in a foreign country, according to the state demographer’s website. In 2014, Texas’ 4.5 million foreign-born population tied New York for the second-largest state immigrant population by size, according to the Pew Research Center. Texas stands to gain in a big way if those millions are counted.

Do the math – immigrants are woven into the fabric of our lives and our society. If a considerable number of those immigrants are fearful of the citizenship question and don’t answer the census, the consequences could harm Austin and Texas, answering the question, “Why should I care?”

 

Trump: Border wall position unchanged. But can you spare $18 billion?

Hundreds of people, many of them Haitian, demonstrate against racism in Times Square on Martin Luther King (MLK) Day, January 15, New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Trump is learning that the problem with asking U.S. taxpayers to pick up the $18 billion tab for his border wall is that they have long memories. Particularly when there’s money involved.

They remember when Trump promised ad nauseam at campaign rallies across the country in 2016 that Mexico would pay for a wall. Trump staked his bid for the presidency on it.

So, it’s natural for them to ask now, “What do you mean, you want us to pay for it?”

Faced with the reality that Mexico won’t pay – they were never going to – it should be embarrassing for the president to have his hand out in order to make good on a campaign promise he knew he couldn’t deliver. He should be more embarrassed that he is asking for border wall funding at the same time he’s playing political games with the fate of hundreds of thousands of young people known as Dreamers. These are the immigrants who came to this country illegally when they were children. Trump is insisting that a deal in Congress to avert a government shutdown and to extend legal protections for these young immigrants will only happen if lawmakers approve funding for his vision of a border wall.

Still, Trump isn’t giving up on the idea that Mexico will pay, no matter how preposterous that idea might seem. On Thursday, he tweeted:

“The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. The $20 billion dollar Wall is “peanuts” compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!”

Perhaps the president’s most ardent supporters will buy that sketchy “Don’t worry, Mexico will pay you back” promise, but most Americans won’t.

It’s important to note that most Americans don’t want a border wall, either, according to polling. And nearly nine in 10 Americans favor allowing Dreamers to stay in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, according to a CBS News poll out today. DACA gives recipients work permits and protects them from deportation.

Dreamers shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions to bring them here in search of a better life — some were infants when they came. Nor should they be played for a political football.

The president can do the right thing and untether their fate from his condition for funding for a border wall, one that most Americans don’t want.

RELATED: A southern border wall is still Trump’s north star 

Trump tweeted more about the wall Thursday, taking the extraordinary step of contradicting his chief of staff by saying that his position on a border wall had not changed.

On Wednesday, the president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said Trump was not fully informed when he promised to build a wall last year. He said the president’s position had evolved.

Trump shot back on Twitter: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it. Parts will be, of necessity, see through and it was never intended to be built in areas where there is natural protection such as mountains, wastelands or tough rivers or water…”

Bear in mind that the president promised over and over again in 2016 to build a wall spanning the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border. More recently he’s told lawmakers that a continuous wall won’t be needed after all because of natural barriers. The $18 billion he’s asking for now would pay for about 900 miles of wall.

That sure sounds like a stance that’s evolved. What gives?

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said earlier this month the president had “discovered” there are rivers, mountains and rugged terrain that aren’t conducive to building a wall in some locations.

Oh, that. That’s something Texans could have told the president a long time ago.

 

Trump gets Barbara Jordan’s immigration views wrong

Former Rep. Barbara Jordan (AMERICAN-STATESMAN file)

President Trump invoked the words of the late Barbara Jordan, the trailblazing Texas Democrat, in a statement Wednesday on the 22nd anniversary of her death. But the statement seemed less about her than about Trump’s politics on immigration. Not surprisingly, it drew the ire of Texas Dems and scholars who said the president had misrepresented Jordan’s views for political gain.

Reaction was swift on Twitter:

Twitter user @Commonsenseb0t wrote:

While @Cellularlinks said:

And @JoelKlebanoff had this stinging take:

In his statement, Trump tied his “America First” immigration agenda to the “spirit” of Jordan’s vision. The president said Jordan “epitomized the American Dream she worked so tirelessly to protect.” He noted that in 1966 Jordan was the first African American woman elected to the Texas Senate and, in 1973, became the first woman to serve Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, a seat she held until 1979.

Mostly, though, Trump — who has been criticized for comments he made about restricting immigration from some poor countries — focused on some of Jordan’s views on immigration.

Trump said Jordan challenged our nation’s leaders “to maximize opportunities for all Americans by adopting an immigration policy that puts American citizens first.” He’s right.

As chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, Jordan said the commission believed that the nation needed a properly regulated system of legal immigration that set limits on the number of immigrants — 550,000 — on a yearly basis. It’s no secret that Trump would like to limit who gets into the U.S.

As committee chair, Jordan “was reflecting the views of the commission, a group of people, and she was taking a middle position,” Ruth Wasem, an LBJ School public policy practice professor who was a Congressional Research Service immigration specialist, told the American-Statesman.

“Jordan called for an end to chain migration, which has allowed millions upon millions of low-skilled foreign nationals to compete for opportunities and resources against our most vulnerable American citizens — many of whom come from African-American and Hispanic-American communities,” Trump said in the statement.

Several studies show that claim is misleading.

“The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low… However, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do,” Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote in her Brookings Institution Essay, “The Wall.”

Immigrants find jobs because Americans don’t want the jobs that are available.

Those more likely to “steal” American jobs are immigrant professionals — engineers and technology workers — of which Trump suggests we need more.

More importantly, Trump’s statement doesn’t appropriately reflect Jordan’s immigration views.

Wasem said that Jordan was worried about the impact of unskilled immigration on minorities but that she was not advocating a return to race-based immigration policies. “She wanted to fully incorporate immigrants into American society,” Wasem said.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson’s protegee, Jordan found inspiration in Johnson’s Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 which — besides concentrating on attracting skilled labor — abolished a quota system based on national origin and focused on reuniting families.

It would be inaccurate to paint Barbara Jordan as a supporter of racist policies that discriminate against immigrants from poor countries, said Jeremi Suri, a University of Texas history and global affairs professor.

“Jordan would find such positions offensive,” Suri said.

Missing from Trump’s cynical attempt to connect Jordan’s immigration views to his are her support of refugees and respect for all people. Respect for others was not unique to Jordan in her time. It was present in the nation’s overall political climate then.

Oh, how things have changed.

During her congressional tenure, both sides of the aisle favored civil rights-related rhetoric, Suri said. That rhetoric, he said, centered around inclusion, absence of prejudice and the belief that all parts of the world should be respected.

Back then it was rhetoric that Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill could agree on, even if policy didn’t always back the rhetoric, Suri added.
Not anymore.

“Today we have the party of Reagan regularly, its leaders, use racist rhetoric when they talk about people of color and immigrants,” Suri said.

And, it seems, shamelessly use the legacy of beloved leaders of color like Jordan for political gain.

Updated to reflect Jordan’s time as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In Khizr Khan’s inspirational story, a mighty river flows

Khizr Khan, father of fallen U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, speaks as his wife Ghazala listens at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Maybe sometimes it takes a stranger to remind us of our greatness and of the things we hold dear as a nation, but which we take for granted. Maybe it takes someone like Khizr Khan, a Pakistani immigrant who chased his American dream and is living it.

You remember Khan. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016, the Gold Star father of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq fixed a stern gaze at the television camera as if it were a portal into the American consciousness.

With his wife Ghazala beside him, Khan pulled a copy of the U.S. Constitution from his jacket and ripped then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposed Muslim travel ban and his rhetoric on immigrants. Then Khan famously asked if Trump had even read the founding document.

“I will gladly lend you my copy,” he said as the audience roared. “In this document, look for the words liberty and equal protection of the law.”

An electric moment, it rocketed Khan to national prominence.

As we now know is his standard impulse, Trump took to Twitter to fire back. Never mind that attacking the grieving parents of a U.S. Army captain who had given his life for his country seemed outrageously undignified, beneath what we expect of someone wanting to be president.

Khan wasn’t surprised, he told me before an appearance last Saturday morning at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin: “We had known (Trump’s) caliber and his mentality and his lack of empathy, his lack of compassion.”

Today of course, Trump is the president of the United States. Khan isn’t shrinking from the spotlight, either. He is traveling across the country with a newly published book, “An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice.” The event at St. Andrew’s, where he spoke to a few hundred people about the book and about his life, was his 175th event since that fateful, life-changing night in Philadelphia.

“I’d rather be with my grandkids,” Khan told me with a warm smile. “But it’s for a good purpose — to share a message of unity and hope. We are lacking that now.”

But not Khan. His faith in America remains resolute. “The book,” he said, “is a tribute from (our family) to the goodness of America. We are expressing our gratitude.”

Later inside the school auditorium, Khan, wearing a dark suit and a Gold Star lapel pin, deftly wove his life story before a rapt, diverse audience. A Harvard-educated lawyer he spoke in a low, soothing timbre, and reminded them that among the things Americans cherish most are the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

“Human dignities,” he called them. “The founding document gave me these dignities. In Pakistan I did not have freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom to address my grievances in a court of law and due process.”

Life led from a seat on a small cot at his rural Pakistani home with no electricity to his current home of Charlottesville – yes, that Charlottesville in Virginia, where a rally of white supremacists exploded in deadly violence August 12.

In the moonlit darkness of his Pakistani home, Khan’s grandfather offered the young boy wise counsel, paraphrasing one of Rumi’s seven advices. “He told me, ‘So what if you are thirsty. Be a river for others,’” Khan said.

In Charlottesville, three days after the ugly violence, the Khans joined other families in walking the same route the neo-Nazis had taken. Like his grandfather, Khizr Khan had his own lesson to impart.

“We showed our children that these were not American values,” he said. “We stood together to show them that this is the real America.”

Some Americans have blamed Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants for emboldening white supremacist protesters. Khan didn’t address the criticism.

The Khans didn’t intend to accept the Democratic convention’s invitation to speak. Confidantes had warned them there would be backlash, and they were right. Khan receives much hate mail – most of it unsigned and with no return address – and he must travel with great precaution.

But they could not ignore the concerns of their Muslim neighbors’ children, who with Trump’s talk about banning Muslims from entering the U.S., were reluctant to attend school because they feared their parents would be gone — deported – when they returned.

“They would ask, ‘Is this possible? But we were born here,’” Khan said.

In some ways, Khan’s appearance at St. Andrews bore some of the hallmarks of both a celebrity appearance and an inspirational seminar for people thirsty for hope. A long line of people waited to have their photo taken with Khan, who exuded a quiet and gracious humility.

At times audience members fought back tears. At others they rollicked with laughter. The idea of holding up the Constitution had been an afterthought, conceived in a taxi on the way to the Democratic convention. Khan described a comical scene like something out of The Three Stooges: in rehearsing pulling the pocket-size Constitution from his jacket, he displayed the back cover, ruining the intended dramatic effect.

“Practice,” Ghazala scolded him.

In Austin and across the country, at a time when political civility has gone missing, at a time when some in America vilify those who don’t look like them, Khan might be the unlikeliest of rock stars, spinning a love poem to democratic ideals.

If he is thirsty, he is not letting on. Instead, he is a river to others.

 

 

From Cornyn, a border security plan less Trumpian, more Texas-friendly

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn points to a poster with an image of barrier on the Texas-Mexico border as he announces his border security plan Thursday on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo)

For President Trump, a border wall is a signature piece of his domestic agenda, of such magnitude to him politically that he fumed with Mexican President Peña Nieto and pleaded with him to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for it. More on that later.

For U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, however, a border wall is important, but it’s not everything.

“It’s not the whole story,” the Republican Texas senator said Thursday as he presented his $15 billion border security plan that relies more on personnel and technology and less on a wall than the president might like.

As Maria Recio reported in the American-Statesman, Cornyn’s border plan calls for a layered strategy of walls, fencing, levees and technology. Called the Building America’s Trust Act, the bill would increase the number of federal agents at ports of entry and on the border, as well as add more immigration judges and prosecutors. It also would pour more resources into state and local efforts to fight drug trafficking.

VIEWPOINTS: Jobs, not ‘sanctuary’ policies beckon immigrants to U.S.

Cornyn’s plan brings a more reasoned alternative to Trump’s one-size-fits-all, build a border wall approach. It is also likely to go over better with Texans who oppose a wall for a number of reasons, not the least of which is some people just don’t think it’s necessary. Many of those critics live along the border, a point Cornyn subtly referenced when he said federal authorities should consult local officials in shaping border strategy.

That’s something you hear a lot in South Texas and up and down the border, where some residents feel they’ve become a requisite photo op for politicians who swoop in for an hour or two to assess border security — as if that’s all it takes — then return to their respective homes in faraway states. That’s what Trump the presidential candidate did in a 2015 visit to Laredo.

It’ll be interesting to see how Cornyn’s bill progresses and whether it receives bipartisan support. As a border senator and majority whip, he holds considerable sway in Congress and on the fortunes of any border security measure.

‘You cannot say that to the press.’

Trump paved a path to the White House in no small measure on his boastful promise to build a “beautiful” border wall.

“And who’s going to pay for it?” Trump would ask delirious supporters at campaign rallies.

“Mexico will!” they would roar in response.

But leaked transcripts of a January phone call between Trump and Peña Nieto reveal the president knew Mexico would never pay for the wall and that his demand for payment was just a political play. More importantly, he wanted the Mexican president to stop saying publicly that Mexico wouldn’t pay for a wall.

Trump acknowledged that his public posturing on the wall had left him in an extremely tight spot politically.

“The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind, because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall – I have to,” Trump told Peña Nieto in the call.

When Peña Nieto kept insisting that Mexico wouldn’t pay, Trump said: “You cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.”

Trump later said the border wall is not all that important – remarkable considering all his bluster about it.

“Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important (thing we) talk about,” Trump said.

Trump has steered away more recently from demanding that Mexico pay. He’s asked Congress for a $1.6 billion down payment for the wall, which the House has approved. Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S., Trump has said, without offering details on how that might happen.

That all sounds fuzzy. One thing is clear from that January phone call, however: Mexico won’t pay for the wall, and Trump knows it.

That means — and let’s face it, we knew this all along — American taxpayers will foot the bill, which the Department of Homeland Security says could hit $21.6 billion. Will Trump’s supporters still cheer?

RELATED: U.S. policy stole 8 lives in a truck. Why the dying won’t end

As Trump pulls back on a border wall, some aren’t pleased

A boy runs up toward the U.S. border fence from his backyard in San Benito in June. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

Like the twisting Rio Grande, President Trump’s position on a border wall is changing course.

The president, who made the promise of a “big, beautiful border wall” one of the cornerstone promises of his campaign, significantly dialed back on the pledge Thursday, telling reporters that a 2,000-mile-long wall is no longer necessary “because you have a lot of natural barriers.”

“You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious,” Trump said, according to excerpts released by the White House from the president’s conversation with journalists aboard Air Force One. “You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So, you don’t need that.”

Hmmm, that sounds a lot like Texas to us.

RELATED: “Why the border wall fences us in”

The president said he now believes only 700 to 900 miles of wall are needed. About 650 miles of the border with Mexico are already protected by fences or walls; many of those miles in Texas. Trump seemed to suggest that repairing fences already in place would count against the total miles he has in mind, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“You know, we’ve already started the wall because we’re fixing large portions of wall right now,” Trump said. “We’re taking wall that was good but it’s in very bad shape, and we’re making it new.”

At campaign rallies, where supporters’ chants of “build that wall” became a staple, Trump often talked about a wall 30 feet high running the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. But on Thursday the president described a new vision of a wall more closely resembling the fencing already up in places like South Texas, where, at least in some cases, fences hug residents’ back yards.

“You need transparency,” Trump said. “In other words, if you can’t see through that wall — so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall.”

Trump won the support of conservative groups who liked his tough campaign talk on immigration. Some clearly aren’t happy with his changing course on a border wall.

“We don’t have the rule of law when it comes to immigration,” Stephen Steinlight, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington told the Times. “It doesn’t exist. There’s immigration anarchy.”

His new position, however, is likely to go over better with some of the president’s prominent supporters in Texas, who think more border walls aren’t the answer on border security. They include Dennis Nixon, a well-known Laredo banking executive who had this to say to me recently about a border wall: “No serious person thinks you can build a wall from El Paso to Brownsville with any kind of reasonable expectation it will be successful.”

Nixon was the Texas finance chair for the Donald J. Trump for President campaign. Among other solutions, he advocates cleaning up dense vegetation along the Rio Grande so that border enforcement agents gain better access and visibility.

A final footnote on why Trump said a border wall needs openings, and we’ll leave it there.

“As horrible as it sounds,” Trump said, “when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall.”

 

 

 

What does a new citizen have to do to belong?

(Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN archives)

After a nerve-racking, 8-month-long naturalization application process and years of legal residency, my mother is finally one of us: an American Citizen.

I have chronicled her naturalization journey for a few months now. In that time, American-Statesman readers have emailed and called to ask about her process, to congratulate her passing her citizenship interview and to share their expectations of news of when my mother casts her first vote. It’s been an exciting and nerve-wrecking process, to be sure.

With the largest of hurdles behind her, my mom looks only forward to her life here as a new citizen of the United States.

Unfortunately for her — and other immigrants like her — citizenship alone won’t provide the reassurance she’d hoped to gain from attaining that 11×14 piece of paper that bestows upon her every single right granted to a person born in this country. (Except the right to be president – which, I can assure you, she has no interest in being.)  Even with the piece of paper to prove she’s a citizen, she still looks and sounds like she doesn’t belong.

As I’ve written before, my mother decided to apply to become a citizen during last year’s presidential campaign season. She feared then-candidate Donald Trump’s immigration platform, which she considered divisive and anti-immigrant.

Trump’s campaign promise to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. worried her most. As she explained to me, an irrational idea like mass deportation could only be followed by more irrational ideas, including one that could target legal immigrants in this country. The very thought made her more anxious about her future here.

A legal resident for years, she lived without fear of deportation. That changed last year when she saw on television news how some groups embraced Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. So, she decided to ensure her future in the country she has loved and considered home for over 40 years and become a citizen.

One reason she’d waited so long to become as citizen, as I’ve mentioned before, was the racism she experienced when she first arrived and the random discrimination she endured since. She was always an outsider. As hard as she worked and as much as she assimilated, she knew she wasn’t an American — and nasty folks along the way reminded her of that.

On May 25, along with more than 540 other immigrants, my mother took her citizenship oath and renounced allegiance to her homeland of Mexico. I’ve never known her to show such pride in her own accomplishments. Until then, that look had been reserved for the accomplishments of her children and her grandchildren. We — my five siblings and more than a dozen nieces and nephews — were so proud of her.

For the first time in months, we allowed ourselves to feel relief on that day. Yes, we too wondered what might happen to our family if Trump created an “irrational” policy that took our mother away.

On our way to celebrate her new citizenship, she asked: So, do I have to carry this certificate around with me everywhere I go here in Texas?

It might have been a funny question for some, but it was a legitimate concern for my mother. No one was laughing.

It’s the same question that many Latinos in Texas are asking since Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4, a measure which makes it a criminal offense for any government official to put a policy in place prohibiting cooperation with federal detention requests placed on jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Critics say the law, which goes into effect Sept. 1, opens the door to racial profiling because it allows law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine police interactions, such as traffic stops.

Texas’ discriminatory history against Latinos is long and deep. In some parts of the state — and in some parts of the country — looking and sounding different continues to be reason enough to harass. And now, Texas has a law that gives officers the right to openly doubt a person simply for looking differently.

This new law is what prompted my mother’s question. Her accent and still imperfect English, she said, will stand out.

Jokingly she added, “What’s a brown-skin girl have to do to fit in around here?”

Welcome to my world, mom.