Letters from Boston: We Shall Overcome

For every negative action that happens in the politics of our nation, there is a more positive reaction. The bad things are underway. The immigrant round-up, Mr. Trump says, “is a military operation.” Military operations within the United States are generally prohibited by federal law. It’s an American thing.

The reaction of good people will follow, soon, if we are still a great nation.

In Miami-Dade, one reaction took place last week.

It was the courage of Judge Milton Hirsch. The judge who blocked efforts by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez to turn his local police department and jail into a drag-net for mindless deportations. The Mayor was apparently afraid of Trump’s threat to keep millions in federal money from going to Miami-Dade. (Most mayors across America are vowing to fight and resist.)

Judge Hirsch ruled that such an abdication of local policing functions to federal authorities is unconstitutional and a violation of the Tenth Amendment.

He wrote:

“States cannot cede their reserved powers to the federal government — no, not even if they wish to do so.”
“Miami is not and has never been, a sanctuary city. But America is, and has always been, a sanctuary country.”

Score one for liberty. Well done, Judge Hirsch. You’ve made our immigrant ancestors smile.

Hopefully, this battle will inspire Mayors across America to hold strong.

How easy it is to order our federal government to do bad things, for a time, when one is entrusted with the power of the Presidency.

In a new low for the office of the Presidency, Trump used this year’s State of the Union address in our House of Representatives to falsely represent immigrant people as an enormous criminal threat to the rest of us. The truth is immigrants actually commit far fewer violent crimes than the supposedly pure-blooded white “rest of us.”

Turning immigrant people into a massive collective threat makes it easier for Mr. Trump to dehumanize them and desensitize the rest of us from feeling any sympathy for moms, dads, and the children who are being torn apart, sent back to death gangs, or caged like animals in the growing network of for-profit internment camps that are now expanding across the southwestern United States.

Once Presidents “turn on” switches like for-profit immigrant internment camps, it is hard to turn them off. Check out how dramatically the stocks of for-profit prisons have sky-rocketed since the election. Already John Lafferty, Chief of the Asylum Division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirms having secured 20,000 additional beds — a 500% increase from current capacity.

A new DHS memo released last week proposes immigration prosecutors cage parents apart from their children unless they drop their applications for asylum and leave our country.

“The ‘handcuffs’ have been taken off of immigration enforcement,” the President says. And “really bad ones are being taken away.”

And who are these supposedly “really bad ones” that our government drags from their homes and often times from their American-born children?

Daniela Vargas (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

They are people like Daniela Vargas, an outspoken DREAMer who was once protected by President Obama’s executive actions. She has now been taken away and marked for deportation. A chilling message likely intended to silence her fellow DREAMers across the United States.

Rosalina Guzman sits with her youngest son. She and her husband, Roman, have five children who were born in the United States and are citizens. (Amelia Templeton/OPB)

They are dads like Roman Sanchez, an Oregon father of four sons and one daughter, all born in the United States. He was on his way to work last week at a local nursery in Oregon. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) left his car at the side of the road as they dragged him away without being able to even say goodbye to his wife and kids, a family he supported and worked hard for every day.

Is this how a free and compassionate people allows their government to act?

Last night in cities all across America, the torch of Liberty was stoked by circles of musicians. They played jigs and reels in a “session” format. That is to say, they played without amplification or stage in the traditional Irish way: seated in a circle, facing one another, in an ancient tradition of musical inclusion and accountability.

This wasn’t any usual Sunday night across Irish America.

These sessions had a higher purpose. They were fundraisers to pay lawyers for our mostly Latino brothers and sisters who suddenly find themselves fighting internment and exile from their home and families.

They called their networked fundraisers “Sanctuary Sessions.” It was an Irish thing, but an Irish thing most Americans can well understand.

The session I attended in Baltimore was led by Billy McComiskey, one of the greatest traditional Irish accordion players on this side of the Atlantic.

Upon his nod, a short speech was given extolling the virtues of the truer Irish American experience, the immigrant experience of so many of our great-grandparents and others (an experience not to be eclipsed by the aberration of current White House white supremacists with Irish surnames like Stephen Bannon.)

3/5/17: Gov. Martin O’Malley at Sanctuary Session in Baltimore

With a second nod from the leader of the session, it was time for a song. A great American song of goodness and compassion. A song of perseverance and holding strong in the face of adversity. The Catholics in attendance even suspended for a moment their natural aversion to singing along with others.

And there around the hearth in one corner of America, lifted by a circle of fiddles, flutes, accordions, and tin whistle rose the words to “We Shall Overcome.”

“Deep in my heart…I do believe…We Shall Overcome Someday.”

Hold strong, America.

Stand up for our ancestors, our kids, our grandchildren, and for our country. Stand up for our immigrant neighbors.

Send your contributions to the ACLU.


Martin O’Malley is the Jerome Lyle Rappaport Visiting Professor at Boston College Law School for the spring 2017 semester. He is teaching a class on Leadership and Data Driven Government, while also participating in several panel discussions as part of the Rappaport Distinguished Public Policy Series. Every Monday he is publishing his thoughts in a series titled, “Letters from Boston.”