Leave Rhetoric at the Door


We attended last week’s immigration forum at the senior center in Hampton Bays, and although U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, who spoke at the event, is justified in saying the status quo for the treatment of undocumented immigrants living on the East End is unacceptable, we feel the “status quo” for how these immigration forums are structured also needs to change.

Local politicians keep reiterating the importance of engaging in a dialogue between those who are pro-immigrant and those against, but perhaps at this point, simply talking isn’t enough to bridge the gap between these two divergent parties. Perhaps touting dialogue as the panacea for this complicated and sticky issue is only adding emotional fuel to the fire.

We find that there are inherent problems with forums in which the first hour is devoted to presentations from the panel of politicians and experts, and then the floor is turned over for public comment and questions in the second hour.

To begin with, too often people use this platform as an opportunity to stand on their soapboxes and spout arguments and “facts” about the topic which are often misleading or just wrong. The temptation to expound a polarizing idea was fueled at last Friday’s forum by the presence of a large and captivated crowd. The arguments took on a theatrical quality and the words contained barely cloaked racism.

Often the word “illegal” was said with the same venom some people use when uttering a racial pejorative.

Not very constructive, as we see it.

However, people’s questions regarding the issues cannot be continually met with vague responses from panelists. Politicians need to start addressing these comments and questions with actual ideas that might be used to enact local, state or even federal policies and programs to ameliorate the issue, instead of waxing poetic.

Instead of engaging simply in dialogue (that often devolves into one sided rants), perhaps its time these forums had people from all sides of the community come forward with ideas that might solve some of the criticisms aimed at immigrants in general and undocumented workers in particular. We are not the first community to deal with this issue — maybe it’s time to look to other parts of the country to see how they’ve handled controversy related to the immigration issue. And instead of keeping people in their seats, why not give the audience a specific topic to tackle and set-up tables where residents can discuss and debate the details in a face to face setting with a moderator?

This is an issue that should continue to be depoliticized and looked at through a practical lens. Even if deporting all the undocumented workers in the country was a possibility, which is unlikely, it is a solution that would take several years if not decades to achieve and the problems between undocumented immigrants and longtime residents is occurring right now.

So while we are grateful to our local politicians for their interest and attention to this issue, we ask that they try to find alternative ways of presenting forums that actually results in some headway being made on immigration.

We understand this is an uphill battle and that, despite any positives that come from these forums, there will always be those whose minds will not be changed under any circumstances.

So let’s use these immigration platforms as a way to focus on the concrete and leave the rhetoric at the door. Remember, sometimes, it takes years — and generations — to change minds. There’s no two hour forum in the world that is likely to alter that reality.