Thursday, April 14, 2011

Calling on Joe Donnelly to change his views on immigration policy

College Democrats of Notre Dame and the greater South Bend community must work hard to move Joe Donnelly's position on immigration reform. He voted against the DREAM Act in 2010, and in response to an e-mail I sent to him through the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on immigration reform his office had this to say:
April 14, 2011
Dear Mr. Rhodenbaugh,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about immigration reform. I value your views, and your input helps me to better represent the people of Indiana's Second Congressional District.

First and foremost, I believe that securing our nation's borders is critical to our homeland security and essential for protecting our communities. Today it is estimated that over 12 million illegal immigrants are living within the United States with an additional 300,000 crossing our borders each year. Clearly, the current immigration system is broken.

Now, more than nice years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, we still lack the manpower and resources to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into our country. That is why I support proposals to increase the number of border patrol agents, as well as increased funding for the technology and equipment necessary for these agents to prevent immigrants from entering our country illegally.

However, border enforcement alone will not solve the problem. Each year thousands of undocumented workers enter the United States in search of employment opportunities. Although it is against the law to knowingly hire undocumented workers, the incentives of cheap labor combined with the lax enforcement of employment laws have encouraged many employers to hire illegal immigrants. As a result, we must improve the workplace enforcement of our employment laws and crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.

Illegal immigration will likely continue to be a highly contentious issue. Although a solution will inevitably require bipartisan support, I will oppose any proposal that amounts to amnesty. Rest assured, when the House of Representatives considers immigration legislation, I will carefully review it to determine if it is in the best interests of our district.

The United States has a rich tradition built upon the hard work of immigrant citizens from all over the world. Out of respect for our laws and those who have followed them, I will continue to work hard to ensure that American citizenship is reserved for those who play by the rules.

Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. Please do not hesitate to write, call or email me again if I can ever be of assistance. Also, if you would like to receive regular updates on my actions on your behalf in Congress, sign up for my e-newsletter, The Donnelly Dispatch, at


Joe Donnelly

Member of Congress

I replied to the e-mail:

I am deeply dissatisfied with the tone of this e-mail, and the priorities laid out by the Congressman. Border protection is an essential part of immigration reform, but to pretend the problem will be solved by tougher border security without mentioning the need to embrace the humanity of the immigrant is reckless and negligent. It is irresponsible for a member of Congress to provoke discrimination, fear and hatred by using the term "illegal" to describe a group of people. I understand he is vulnerable to conservative and populist pressure in the district, but his most loyal supporters will question their faith in Joe as their Congressman if he continues to join the other side of the aisle in belittling undocumented immigrants and blaming them for a larger set of economic problems in this country.

Thank you for your time. I hope Joe remains open to holding a more moderate position on immigration policy, particularly the DREAM Act.


 Do not give up hope on Congressman Donnelly! We have pressed him before and he has come around on social justice issues, most notably health care reform.  This should be a call to all activists at Notre Dame, Saint Mary's and the greater South Bend community to make it a goal to change his position on immigration before the 2012 election.


Lisa said...

I don't think it is accurate to say that using the word "illegal" provokes hatred or discrimination. Those who enter our country undocumented are just that, illegial aliens. I do, however, think it is irresponsible to put the needs of undocumented workers ahead of the needs of citizens born in our country, or those who have gone about obtaining citizenship according to law. Responsibility is a quality that our country has lately had a hard time employing. Yes, it is time that we all embraced the humanity of every person wanting to be in the U.S., but that person must first embrace the structure and etiquette to enter.

We Are All Immigrants said...


Are you a Native American? Or are you, like most Americans, a relative of someone who came to this country from abroad?

If the latter is true I ask you this: what process did your relative go through to obtain citizenship?

Most likely he or she just arrived (my relatives through Ellis Island) at a port signed a log book and was shuffled right along into the country and became a citizen. That is all.

Because this is my history I can hardly fault anyone who crosses the border into America in search of a better life. And I refuse to call them illegal. These immigrants are following the American Dream in the same fashion as our ancestors and i consider it a great shame that America has lost sight of its roots and heritage.

Some argue, maybe you are one of them, that we need to limit immigration because of national security. Donnelly is certainly a member of that group. I personally find his attempt (in this letter to Chris) to connect the illegal immigration of Hispanics to the 9/11 attacks disturbing. Protecting our borders is one thing, but not allowing Hispanics who come here for a better life to become citizens in a quick and easy fashion is major disservice to them and the ideals of our nation. The Dream Act is one way in which we can help these new immigrants receive the same opportunities our ancestors had when they came to America. If we do not do this as a country we can all be called hypocrites... denying our fellow man of the rights and opportunities that allow us to be as successful as we are today.

Gary S said...

Are you sure that your relatives automatically became a citizen? What time period? The reason why I question it is that my great great grandparent came to America about 1860. He didn't become a citizen until years later when he filed and then it was I believe 14 years before he received citizenship.

Chris Rhodenbaugh said...

Well unfortunately Gary there is no 14 year program right now either. As a person who needs to find work for his or her family to survive you cannot enter the United States legally. Immigration reform activists are seeking a plan that would allow immigrants who are here to work towards citizenship by paying fees and learning English, but even that is too extreme to be passed.

Bill said...

I find this email really troubling. Not because I find anything the congressman said to be offensive, but I feel like his response is wholly inadequate and his characterization of the immigration debate is misrepresenting reality.

For one, we don't have 300,000 illegal immigrants crossing our borders each year. We have illegal immigrants crossing our border 300,000 times this year. The holes in our border allow for people (many of whom really shouldn't be considered immigrants at all) to illegally cross the border for work, and then cross back with their earnings to give to their families. With increased border enforcement, these people would likely stop risking the trip across the border and will decide to stay in America permanently, and perhaps bring their families with them. This would make the problem worse.

Also, I hope that his email wasn't in direct response to an inquiry about the DREAM act. Providing a pathway to citizenship ("amnesty") would make a lot of the economic issues raised in the email irrelevant. If illegal immigrants are able to gain citizenship, they will no longer be able to supply cheap labor.

Finally, the tawdry invocation of the September 11th attacks was completely unnecessary and irrelevant to the conversation. The terrorists and attempted terrorists in this country have all either flown here on airplanes or were legal citizens in the first place. We were attacked by Muslim terrorists from the Middle East, not by Mexican terrorists. I'm sick of this nonsensical argument being used to justify protectionism and xenophobia.

Liz Furman said...

I agree with Chris that the email response from Donnelly was completely inadequate and, frankly, fails to deal with any of the root causes of immigration. Militarization of our borders--an increase in the number of agents, more surveillance towers, and the creation of a giant, environmentally destructive wall--has not decreased the number of people crossing without documents. These policies have, however, funneled migrants into the most dangerous geographic areas to cross, increasing the number of deaths at the border, the number of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children who will never be seen or heard from again by their loved ones. These are beautiful people who are leaving behind their families, culture, and communities not because they want to, but because they are desperate. If someone successfully survives the dangerous journey, he or she is then rewarded with a job in the U.S., albeit one that is low-wage and exploitative, and our economy depends on immigrant labor (just look at the produce industry, or Arizona now as so many people left the state, or watch the documentary 9500 Liberty). So our policy on paper and its implementation in reality are completely inconsistent.

The issue of immigration is much more complicated than Donnelly dangerously implies. U.S. immigration policy seems to be rooted in fear mongering (relating the U.S. Mexico border to 9-11 is a prime example. None of the attackers were from Latin America, and most had visas) rather than addressing the root social and economic causes. People will continue to migrate when they are hopeless and opportunityless in their him countries. What would you do if your son or daughter was looking at you with big, hungry eyes asking you for food that you simply cannot provide? A job in America, even if you risk your life to get there without documents, is appealing.

I'm not saying that the U.S, should be doing nothing at the border. I'm arguing that we have to think first of the protection of invaluable and irreplaceable human lives and their inherent human rights when making policy. Immigrants, documents or not, are people, not statistics. Any strategy must be comprehensive and deal with both root causes and consequences of immigration in the recent decades.

Sarah said...

Amen, sista =)

Also, I just want to call into question one thing Bill said, which is, "With increased border enforcement, these people would likely stop risking the trip across the border." This is actually not true- in fact, crossing the border has become quite deadly and dangerous due to increased border security and people continue to cross at the same rate- even multiple times when they've already experienced how difficult it is. This is just a testament to the severity of the situation is in latin america- people continue to cross when they know they're risking their lives.