Today, the Michigan Task Force on Border Security & Immigration Reform–a body consisting of five members of Michigan’s House of Representatives–held a hearing “on how illegal immigration” affects Michigan. The hearing was held in Jenison because one of the committee’s members–Dave Agema–is a Republican representative from the West Michigan city of Grandville. The three other members of the Task Force–all of whom are Republicans–Phil Pavlov of St. Clair Township, Chuck Moss of Birmingham, and Dave Robertson of Grand Blanc–either have held or will hold hearings on the topic in their district.
Today’s hearing featured nine speakers representing a variety of entities including Customs and Border Protection, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, the Michigan State Police, the Ottawa County Clerk’s Office, the Ottawa County Farm Bureau, Mercantile Bank, and Congressman Peter Hoekstra. The speakers, while all presenting a slightly different perspective, represented an “enforcement only” approach to immigration that sought to find ways to verify people’s documentation status and to enforce or create new regulations on immigration. There was no perspective included among the nine people testifying that took a more comprehensive view of the issue of immigration, nor was there any debate amongst those testifying as they essentially backed the perspective of the Task Force. According to an aide for Representative Agema, those testifying were representatives of agencies whom the Task Force contacted to testify. The majority of the panelists specifically spoke in favor Representative Agema’s driver’s license bill that would require Michigan residents to prove citizenship or legal immigration status before being issued a license. After the nine scheduled panelists spoke, there were ten minutes for public comment. The hearing went over that time limit by about half-an-hour, but it was clear that the panel was not terribly interested in hearing the public’s opinion on the matter when it disagreed with their own assumptions.
All of those who waited to comment during the public comment period were opponents of Agema’s driver’s license law as well as the overall association of immigrants with terrorists. Members of the West Michigan Catholic community spoke in opposition to the criminalization of immigrants, urging the members of the Task Force to consult the website Justiceforimmigrants.org and the Michigan Catholic Conference’s position on immigration. Others told the Task Force that undocumented immigrants come to the United States seeking a better opportunity because they have no other recourse as the legal processes are inaccessible for those with the most need while urging the Task Force to investigate why people migrate to the United States. The Task Force heard from people who rejected the notion of equating of immigrants with terrorists, pointing out that the association creates a “lynch mob mentality” against undocumented immigrants. It was also asserted that the best place to deal with immigration is at the federal level, with one citizen reminding the panel that Agema opposed comprehensive immigration reform despite the fact that two heads of the Department of Homeland Security–Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff–have both said that it must be considered as pure law enforcement efforts are not enough.
While much of the scheduled testimony overlapped and included similar rhetoric about how to identify undocumented immigrants, the possibility that criminals are slipping through the cracks in the broken immigration system, and whether or not Michigan and local law enforcement officials could be empowered to enforce immigration law, there were two speakers that were particularly noteworthy. The first was Peter Gadiel, a man who said he was from Connecticut and who was representing the organization 9/11 Families for a Secure America. According to one of Agema’s staffers, a representative of 9/11 Families for a Secure America was specifically sought out because of “the role they have played in the debate” at the national level. Peter Gadiel, who represented the organization, said “people are dying at the hands of people here illegally” and went on a lengthy diatribe against illegal immigrants that repeatedly associated them with the 9/11 terrorists. He said that “drunk-driving illegal aliens” are killing people and that his son–who was killed in the 9/11 attacks–would be alive if the 9/11 terrorists would not have had driver’s licenses. He therefore endorsed Agema’s legislation while also calling for the law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law. At the national level, Gadiel’s organization has sought to address “the dangers of unsecured borders, visa waiver programs, loose standards for issuing drivers’ licenses, [and the] acceptance of matricular cards.” Gadiel’s comments were the harshest of the hearing, and it is therefore not surprising that his organization links to several far right entities on its website including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (Gadiel was also a FAIR board member) and other organizations associated with Michigan resident and major financier of the anti-immigrant movement John Tanton, as well as organizations such as Vdare.com and American Patrol–both of whom have been accused of racism by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Gadiel also recently spoke at an event in Morristown, NJ that was attended by neo-Nazis.
It is also worth noting that Representative Agema is listed as a member of 9/11 Families for a Secure America’s State Legislators for Legal Immigration project, along with Kalamazoo area representative Jack Hoogendyk. The State Legislators for Legal Immigration organization is circulating a petition calling for the “securing of our borders against unlawful invasion” and the denial of education, health, and welfare benefits for undocumented immigrations. In addition, the organization associates “illegal aliens” with “incidences of homicide, identity theft, property theft, serious infectious diseases, drug running, gang violence, human trafficking, terrorism and growing cost to taxpayers.” In response to this alleged threat–which functions as a threat against immigrants–the group is calling for state governments to deny public services to immigrants with the goal of ending the “illegal immigrant invasion” and thereby enacting a process that will result in “the illegal aliens returning to their home country of origin on their own volition.”
The other person that testified who was of interest was someone who was listed on the agenda only as “Mary Anne Van Dam.” Van Dam told a story about how her parents were “legal” immigrants from Mexico, that they worked in the blueberry fields, and that they ultimately became residents of the United States. This was a difficult process according to Van Dam, with constant effort required to keep their green cards current and difficulty in making sure that their children learned English. Van Dam ended her comments by stating that she supported Agema’s bill calling for a driver’s licenses to only be issued to citizens. However, Van Dam–and the rest of the Task Force–failed to acknowledge that far from being an unbiased source, she is Representative Agema’s “Campaign Manager.” Numerous news releases on Agema’s website list her as a contact and she is listed as Agema’s district contact person on the city of Grandville’s website. It seems unethical at best not to disclose this connection and at worst deliberately dishonest.
That the body would present a slate of speakers that advanced a fear of immigrants is not surprising given their past statements. Representative Agema has made “illegal immigration” a major issue and has sponsored a variety of legislation designed to make Michigan “a more difficult place for illegals to survive.” In a recent news release announcing his proposed driver’s license legislation, Agema said:
“The cost of not taking these safety precautions is great due to outside threats that can result in the potential loss of life. This move also can help the state with significant long-term savings by stopping the infiltration of illegal aliens, who add to Michigan’s education, welfare, health care, and prison costs and allow legal Michigan residents to keep jobs that otherwise would be hired out to illegals.”
Representative Dave Robertson, who denied a citizen’s charge that the Task Force had promoted “divisive” rhetoric–despite Robertson’s statement that “multiculturalism political correctness” is “anything but correct”–recently stated that “illegal immigration puts strain on Michigan’s public services and costs Michigan taxpayers millions in funding for these service (http://www.gophouse.com/readarticle.asp?id=4401&District=51).” No source was provided for his assertion.