Ben Downing: Immigration

One Friday, my wife helped organize the local Lights for Liberty rally against the border detention camps. Then on Saturday, we joined with our local elected officials recognizing my great Grand Uncle Albert Downing, an immigrant who gave his life serving his adopted country in WWI. And On Sunday, the President slandered my Congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley, with racist taunts and jeers. Sadly, this weekend seemed to capture every aspect of immigration debates during the Trump presidency - hate, history and hope competing for what will shape our future. I am optimistic it will be hope, but hope is not enough. 

If history has taught us anything it is that resistance to hate and cruelty cannot be passive. To ensure America remains a country that welcomes the Albert Downings of today, we need to work for it. To date, the public seems to recognize this. Ongoing debates have not shown our elected officials do. 

Congress recently passed a border funding bill, with more resources and few restrictions on the President. This came after multiple reports of inhumane treatment of asylum seekers at the Southern Border. These reports added to the Trump administration’s record of attacking and denigrating immigrants. There is no reason to believe giving the administration more funding would reduce family separation or eliminate detention camps. If anything, giving them more money without restrictions would seem to encourage them to do more of the same. Maybe this endgame was inevitable, given the Senate’s acquiescence to the President. But it felt too normal, as if the debate was about funding any other agency at any other time. 

The work and debate is not restricted to the federal government. State and local government has never been more important than it is now. Massachusetts should have joined other states in passing immigrant protections like the Safe Communities Act long ago. The legislation would protect due process rights of immigrants and ensure local law enforcement’s time and resources are not diverted by federal immigration policy. Similar proposals have become law with bipartisan approval, most recently in Illinois in 2017. Regardless of missed opportunities, the time is now to act and ensure that state and local law enforcement are not drawn into the Trump administration’s misguided immigration policies. 

Massachusetts, and every other state, is stronger because of each wave of immigrants who have come to our communities and made them home. Whether they arrive in East Boston or Great Barrington, whether they come from Colombia or the Ivory Coast, immigrants should know they are welcome and should not fear reporting crimes because they may be swept up in misguided federal immigration policy. Massachusetts can and should act. The Safe Communities Act should be law. Every day that it is not we fail our immigrant neighbors, family members and friends. 

It is tempting to note that President Trump’s rhetoric and policies may have turned away future doctors, entrepreneurs, inventors or veterans like Albert Downing. But we shouldn’t need to assume that every immigrant is exceptional to see their humanity. We can have an economy that serves everyone, secure communities and be open and welcoming to all who want to call America home. We can be that Massachusetts and that America, but only if we are willing to work for it, to fight for it. I am hopeful we are all ready to do just that.

Ben Downing represented the westernmost district in the Massachusetts Senate from 2006 to 2016. He is currently a vice president at Nexamp, a Massachusetts-based solar energy company, and an adjunct faculty member at Tufts University.

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