Category Archives: Immigration

Time to Make a Serious Push for Immigrants and Refugees

Emma Lazarus’ famous poem is often cited as voicing the best impulses of our country. But it’s kind of a double-edged sword: The spirit of generosity is counterbalanced by the implicit message that immigrants are “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse,” which is far from the truth. In fact, immigration —including refugee resettlement — has brought energy, talent, motivation and a propensity for hard work to our country.

Lazarus’ poem makes it seem like an open-door policy is purely a matter of charity. But it’s quite the opposite. The influx of New Americans is, by a long shot, a net positive for our country, our economy and our culture.

Which brings me to this particular moment in Vermont. Donald Trump almost completely closed the doors to immigrants and refugees, which put a halt to Vermont’s efforts to become a destination for New Americans. Joe Biden has promised to loosen restrictions on immigration and refugee settlement, including raising the annual refugee cap from Trump’s 15,000 to 125,000, which is higher than it was in the Obama Administration.

It’s time for Vermont to get in on the ground floor. Gov. Phil Scott has talked of New Americans as a key in growing our economy and easing our demographic crisis. He needs to act in concert with legislative leaders and our Congressional delegation to promote Vermont as an immigrant destination. He needs to consult with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program to determine what we can do to help people move here successfully.

This kind of commitment is far more likely to pay off than any of Scott’s penny-ante ideas for attracting new residents, including the endlessly-touted but marginally effective remote worker grant program.

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Bookshelf: Those who forget the past…

Before yesterday, I knew some bare-bones facts about America’s wholesale imprisonment of people of Japanese lineage during World War II. And then I read George Takei’s graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy. (Available here.)

Takei, best known as Sulu on the original Star Trek, was one of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were ripped from their homes in the western U.S. and sent to distant “camps” for the duration of the war. I knew that the internment order was a terrible thing; Takei’s book taught me two important lessons.

First, it wasn’t just a single act. There was a whole series of barbaric actions by the U.S. government that are hard to fathom by modern standards — even given the cruelty of our current administration. And second, the human cost of internment continued long after the war. The story of a single family, told in pictures, brings to life the human dimension of this awful period. Seeing forced relocation through a child’s eyes provides a perspective you can’t get in a history book.

Takei’s story begins with a harsh knock on the door, and an order for his family to vacate their home within ten minutes. They could only take whatever they could carry. Everything else — homes, businesses, possessions — was left behind and lost forever.

America made no effort to determine which people might actually be a threat. All were treated as enemies. Politicians who would become celebrated for their devotion to American ideals — Franklin Roosevelt, Earl Warren — were willing participants in the demonization of ethnic Japanese, fanning the flames of prejudice and advocating legislation that would rob people of their lives, livelihoods, dignity and freedom.

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A timely outbreak of morality that might just pay off

This is a good week to be a Vermonter. While Donald Trump and many of his followers are acting like sore winners and planning the conservative transformation of our national government, expressions of tolerance are springing up all over official Vermont.

They’re doing the right thing at a critical moment. I’m often cynical about Vermont exceptionalism*, but it’s times like this that remind me that it can, indeed, be a special place.

*Having once, ahem, entitled a post “Kill Vermont Exceptionalism.”

Also, hey, bonus: if we become known as a haven against intolerance, our economy and our population may get a needed boost thanks to an influx of people who experience fear or intolerance in other states.

In no particular order:

— Governor Shumiln and Governor-elect Phil Scott issue a joint statement “of concern and defiance in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.” Full credit to Scott for taking a stand against intolerance and in support of “refugee groups, health centers, immigrant rights activists and schools.”

“We/I thought it was important to show, whether it was the current governor or the incoming governor, Democrat or Republican, that we’re unified on the issue of protecting civil rights,” Scott said.

Couldn’t ask for more than that. Plus, it’s one sign that he wants to govern from the center and be a Governor for all Vermonters. It’s only one, but it’s a good one.

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Another xenophobic VTGOP candidate

This week has brought controversy to Republican House candidate Michael McGarghan and Burlington School Board member David Kirk for posting hateful content on their social media accounts.

Well, we’ve got another hot one: Bill Lawrence, candidate for the House in the Chittenden-3 district, which includes Jericho and Underhill. And I’m guessing that if we spent a few hours trolling the social media accounts of Republican candidates, we’d find more than a few like McGarghan (who Tweeted that President Obama should be hanged) and Mark Donka, whose Facebook extremism has previously been chronicled in these pages.

I might humbly suggest to Don Turner that he should teach his would-be candidates not to post egregiously awful stuff on Twitter or Facebook. I mean, you don’t want to make it appear that the VTGOP is a party full of racists, conspiratorialists, and extremists, do you now?

Bill Lawrence, to judge by his social media content, is a very conservative Republican, a Donald Trump supporter, formerly an enthusiastic backer of Bruce Lisman, a racist and a xenophobe (especially when it comes to Muslims), and an aficionado of far-right conspiracy theories.

He certainly has the First Amendment right to post whatever garbage he wants to. And I have the right to inform the good people of Chittenden-3 what kind of person is tainting their ballots.

Mr. Lawrence’s proclivities were brought to my attention by a fellow liberal Tweeter named Scott Pavek (@RSPavek), who RT’d several of Lawrence’s more intemperate Tweets. Good thing, too; Lawrence seems to have closed down his Twitter account after his posts were discovered.

Too bad we have screenshots. Also too bad that Lawrence hasn’t thought to scrub his Facebook page, which has quite a few other nasty pieces of alt-right propaganda.

And here, submitted for your consideration, are some entries from the Lawrence Files.

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The DMV needs an overhaul

Ah, the Department of Motor Vehicles: everybody’s stereotype of a complacent, hidebound bureaucracy, where the lines are long and the staff’s hostility is held in check by its somnolence.

The image is unfair to the reality. The DMV has made strides to enter, if not the 21st Century, at least the late 20th. But now it faces new challenges not of its own making, and there needs to be a shakeup in its future.

Among those challenges: responsibility for voter registration which it seems to be fumbling, and an attitude toward the new driver’s privilege cards that seems to have awakened the inner Barney Fife in some DMV employees.

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Falafel Waffle: Compassion without substance

Unfortunately for Phil Scott, Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate in Rutland happened a mere few hours after federal officials had approved the settlement of Syrian refugees in that city.

I say “unfortunately” because that brought the refugee question front and center, and Scott did nothing to distinguish himself as a leader. In fact, he did quite the opposite: he took both sides on the question. In the process, he gave substantial deference to the opponents of the plan while undercutting its advocates. Many a dog whistle was blown.

His non-answer has been widely reported in the media, but I went back to the video and transcribed the whole thing. It’s worse than I thought.

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Journalism in defiance of press release

Round of applause for the Burlington Free Press’ April Burbank, who filed an appropriately skeptical report on Scott Milne’s umpty-billionth attack on Sen. Pat Leahy’s integrity.

The subject of his latest sally was, once again, EB-5. In a press release and news conference, MIlne played his favorite hits and added a couple new verses while depicting Leahy as The Great And Powerful Wizard of EB-5.

Unfortunately for Milne’s desired narrative, Burbank began her story thusly:

Scott Milne said he’s “not ready” to discuss specific policies he would pursue if elected to the U.S. Senate, other than ethical questions he has raised about his opponent, Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Yeah, boy, is he “not ready.”

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How not to prove you’re not a xenophobe

The Rutland Firsters claim that all they want is more information about the proposed settlement of Syrian refugees in their city. Well, now we know what kind of information they’re looking for.

On Tuesday night, that not-at-all nativist, not-at-all racist, not-at-all xenophobic organization held an “informational” meeting — and invited two speakers from the InfoWars School of Nutbar Conspiracy-Mongering.

The opening act was Philip Haney, who claims the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government, and that the global Islamic terror network is “operating in plain sight” right here in America.

The headliner was James Simpson, making his second appearance in Rutland this year. Simpson whips up a toxic brew of terror, Sharia Law, and secret United Nations plots to undermine America and create one world government. He also claimed an “affiliation” between the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Black Lives Matter.

I guess he missed the connection with the fake moon landing. It was Arabic civilizations, after all, that pioneered numbers, mathematics, and astronomy. Making people believe in the moon landing is obviously a way to promulgate the Grand Caliphate Conspiracy: get us believin’ in that space and science stuff they fabricated, and it’s one small step to global Muslim rule.
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Weenie Exceptionalism

Ah, Vermont. Hewn of granite and marble. Majestic mountains, vast forests. A stout and hearty people, hardworking and honest. A land of enduring values.

Or…

An incredibly fragile place that could be knocked out of kilter by the gentlest breeze. A state whose very future might be imperiled by the slightest misstep, no matter where or when.

Myself, I live in the first state. A lot of us seem to have taken up permanent residence in the nightmarish second, at least to judge by their Chicken Little rhetoric.

I see it from all parts of the political spectrum. Conservatives and liberals, business types, environmental activists, townies, country folk, etc., etc.

Let’s take Rutland, a city that’s had its share of hard knocks. The manufacturing boom times, the long steady decline, the scourge of drug addiction. It’s lived through all that, and retained a sense of identity and pride.

But add 100 Syrian refugees, and the whole place will go kerblooey. So say the fearmongers and nativists at Rutland First, anyway. City Treasurer Wendy Wilton claims she’d be fine with 25 Syrians — but 100 is simply too many. Others say the Syrians would be doomed to unemployment or underemployment because there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

Oh ye Rutlanders of little faith.
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Sooner or later the VTGOP will have to address Rutland

Got a lot of blowback on my recent post about the Syrian refugee debate in Rutland. More than one correspondent kindly pointed out that I had misidentified Mayor Chris Louras as a Republican.

They were right and I was wrong. He switched to independent several years ago.

But contrary to their claims, my argument still stands. The refugee proposal is likely to be the dominant issue in next March’s city elections, and if opponents put up candidates who would reject the plan, then the Vermont Republican Party and its hypothetical Governor Phil Scott would face a critical choice:

Do they support the refugee plan, or do they embrace the Trumpian fear tactics of the opponents?

That doesn’t change because Chris Louras is an independent, and I’ma tell you why.

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