Monday, February 17, 2014

White House Briefing Part I

This is part IV of a series:  Immigration, Healthcare and the Economy

(part I of this adventure is at dorucak na granici
part II is at Booooom 
part III is at the white-house

The briefings were divided into two parts, the first part of the White House Ethnic Day briefings concerned Domestic Agenda: Immigration, Healthcare and the Economy. 

Please to forgive me, but I grew up in and I still live in a world which has a special internal response to officials speaking or writing about domestic agendas.  Food and eating are a major part of our culture so if you have a recipe and want to tell us about it we are always happy to listen. If its a recipe for sarma for example, we expect you to cook some and then we'll tell you if we think it needs some more paprika or whatever.  Be sure, if we think its not just right, we will tell you.  Recipes, politics, domestic agendas, its all the same to us.  Tell us your story, we will listen politely, you cook it, we'll let you know if the flavor is right.  I must also tell you at this point, that the opinions I express here are my own and not necessarily the opinions or viewpoints of anyone else in our group. 

So, on Healthcare and the Economy, the presenters did a good job of presenting the current party line.  Ok.  That was interesting.

I think our ears perked up with the presentation about Immigration.  That too followed the current party line - with some peculiar and interesting twists. The young lady presenting talked about some "standards" which the leader of the House of Representatives had presented as opposed to "principles" which the opposing party was presenting.  Somehow I think that we were supposed to feel that "principles" were more principled than standards.  If you sense by now that I am amused, you are right.  At this point, I am amused.  The next two presenters on the topic talked about the House leader's "principles."  

I have lived nearly all my life in the once Democrat controlled Texas and I still live in the mostly Democrat controlled Rio Grande Valley.  All my life, until fairly recently, I've had friends inside Communist controlled regions of Europe.  Almost everyone in the room either once lived in Communist controlled Europe or had family who did.  We all understand how these things are supposed to work.  You keep your party line, whatever it is today, consistent.  If you don't, even though all you can see is our straight poker faces, somewhere inside we are laughing at you. Lesson for the current or any other White House: propaganda is ok, we understand propaganda for what it is and we are not offended, but please do try to keep your story straight. Once you adopt a party line, stay on target.  Please.

Someone went to the microphone and asked "How many ethnic groups are represented here today?"  Answer:  "We don't know."

There was a moment of pregnant silence across the entire room.

There was a request for the officials to find out how many ethnic groups were represented.  There was a hasty almost embarrassed promise to find out and pass the information along to us.

Again, another pregnant silence.  

As if to move the discussion away from that kettle of hot kestena*, one of the presenters asked us all to look around and see what the other people in the room looked like.  He pointed out that "certain people" wanted everyone to think the immigration "problem" concerned all the Mexican immigrants but that the Mexicans were number nine on the list of people wanting to migrate to the USA.  Yeah, that's what he said "number nine."  Someone at the microphone asked him who the other eight on the list were. Sigh, he didn't know.  He said the room represented the "real" picture he wanted us to take back to our constituents.  

Harpreet S. Sandhu and David Byler
We had constituents?  We did not know that, but we all looked around the room. Our taxi cab driver that morning had been Ethiopian but I did not see any one who looked Ethiopian.  The lady at the desk in my hotel had been from Ghana but I did not see any one who looked like they were from from Ghana.  The server at the restaurant at the hotel that morning had been from Cote d' Ivoire but I did not see anyone who was likely to be from Cote d' Ivoire.  The evening server and the cook at the hotel were from Columbia. Granted, one of them had a grandmother from Dalmacija but I did not see any brown faces in the room.  There were some gentlemen who are perhaps Sikh, but they look just like me only younger and with much prettier colored hats.   In fact, our beards even almost matched. The "picture" I was supposed to  take back to my "constituents" was the "picture" of a sea of white faces.  Sorry Charlie, I am from  El Valle del Rio Bravo where the fences at the border are tall and topped with concertina wire.  I know about the face of immigration to the United States.  People in the room around me were looking at each other with looks of disbelief on their faces.  

Back in Brownsville, both Doctor Factorizza, my Doctor, and his Physician's Assistant are from the Visayas in the Philippines where Typhoon Yolanda hit back on 6 November 2013. They have family out there on those islands where the storm hit, where, even as more bodies are recovered daily, the death  count has risen to over six thousand and tens of thousands more are essentially homeless. I care about my doctor and his staff.  They supported me with their loving expertise throughout the five years of my wife's final illness. They care about me.  I care about them. 

The Philippine President formally requested that the U.S. government designate his country as eligible for "Temporary Protected Status" under American Immigration laws back in December. TPS would help Filipinos support their families back home by sending remittances and thus assist in the country’s post-Typhoon recovery. Under federal immigration laws, a country may be designated for TPS due to certain conditions in the country that prevent its nationals from returning safely or in certain circumstances in which the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. In the Philippines' case, a natural disaster like a typhoon is sufficient for a declaration of Temporary Protected Status. TPS changes aliens’ immigration status and makes them not subject to removal, work authorized, and able to secure travel documents as well as driver’s licenses.  

Its not just my doctor, there are almost three and a half million Filipinos living in the United States. Without this "protected status" many of the fourth largest group of immigrants to the US, behind only Mexico, China, and India, (Yeah, Mexico is number one, not number nine)  become illegal simply because they cannot return home at this time.  Some of those who do return home to help with the disaster loose their chance at citizenship in the US.  As of the time of our briefing on Friday 7 February 2014 the US Administration had not responded to President Aquino's request.

I was in too much pain to hope to get to the microphone, but another from my group asked my questions and so did others from other groups. The responses were all pretty much muffled pebbles in the mouth "I don't know" or along those lines.  Most unsatisfactory.

Oprosti me, but by this point in the "briefing" I am having difficulty believing anything I am being told from the podium about the Administration's concern with immigration.  The truth is, by this time I was in a rage but I tried to do the poker face thing because I did not want to embarrass Nenad Bach and my other fellow Croatian - Americans.  I do hope that if rage showed on my face that everyone took it to be the pain in my back but I was one mad dog about to explode.

I've been on the front lines of immigration issues almost all of my life so those young whipper-snappers up there on the podium did not have much over me.  My parents were in immigration court with attorney Lyndon B. Johnson right beside them on behalf of a young man from Mexico before I had seven years behind me.  In another venue, the community welcomed and absorbed refugees from the aftermath of the Czech Spring, the Croatian Spring, and everybody else's Spring. At All Nation's Festival in El Campo, Texas one year, Mr Zeidman and Freddie and I counted off 46 ethnic groups and as many languages present from our county there in the town square all at once time.  We may even have missed a few.  

In Houston, there was a time when law enforcement would clear up its outstanding cases by raiding Alacran - (the Scorpion), a neighborhood full of refugees from whichever whatever was happening in Nicaragua and Honduras at any given time. The neighborhood was reputed to be the roughest neighborhood in the city.  My company had a records warehouse there.  It was never bothered, nor was I, but then, hardly anyone ever bothers the biggest bear in the forest. The court appointed attorneys would advise "Pancho" to plead guilty because otherwise "La Migra" (the US Immigration Service) would be called and "Pancho" would be sent back to certain death at home.  After "Pancho" began to get quiet advice to ask for a jury trial anyway, and both the courts and the penitentiary up in Huntsville began to be clogged with all the "Panchos", a Federal Judge stepped in.  A local Judge or two who were on the take in this business and a couple of lawyers went to jail themselves and this practice stopped.  I don't agree that "Pancho" should have  been in Houston illegally, but we still do not abuse and terrorize him because he is vulnerable. Americans are better than that.  At least hyphenated-Americans are better than that or we had better learn to be.  

Later, as a pastor in Tennessee, I was in immigration court on behalf of Mexican Parishioners.  In Brownsville I have been in court with an Iranian parishioner.  I do not know all there is to know, but I am no stranger to immigration issues either, so don't nobody try to pull no wool over my eyes no how no time. 

I should tell you that after the break for lunch, someone on the podium announced that everything being said was "off the record" so would all those who had been recording the session please bring their devices up to the podium, please. That wonderful "picture" of the "face" of immigration to the USA was never going to happen.  Even if any of us had been of a mind to forward the administrations program as it stands, we did not get to take the picture. An opportunity wasted.  I kept wondering how inept these folks could be.   Look, I'm in the propaganda business.  That's what a preacher is, you know, we do propaganda for Jesus.   Now I promote Croatian music, i.e. I write propaganda for our music.  The skills are all the same.  One thing you never do is miss the perfect photo op.  Sigh.  

As you might guess, this affair is just now getting to be interesting but we have to wait until next time to hear some more ...

* kestena, chestnuts.  Around Christmas time or so back Home, or where ever we are that chestnuts are plentiful, the men build a little fire outside and put lots of chestnuts in a kettle or something metal and roast them.  They pop, they crackle, they jump, and they are very hot.  One does not want to put his hand in the kettle with them.  The consequences might not be pleasant.

do sljedeći put, blagoslov - until next time, blessings,
David Byler a.k.a. Canovals
17. veljače 2014

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