Thursday, May 13, 2010

Letter to Rep. Harrison, Author of HB 1205 in the Louisiana Legislature

This morning, I went to Baton Rouge to testify against HB 1205. The author of that bill, Rep. Harrison, noting the significant opposition represented at the hearing, moved to delay consideration of the bill. So, I didn't get to testify. However, after we vacated the Committee hearing room, and while standing in the hallway outside of the room, Rep. Harrison approached us and we had a very tense encounter. I'll have to fill you in more completely on this encounter later, as I am a bit rushed at the moment. One of the things that came out of this encounter was a request by Rep. Harrison that we give him the courtesy of communicating our thoughts to him on the bill between now and when the next public hearing on it will be. I obliged him in this request. What follows is the email that I just now sent to him:

Dear Rep. Harrison:

My name is Jimmy Huck and I was a part of the group this morning that came to stand and testify in opposition to HB 1205. First off, I would like to express my thanks at your willingness to engage us. Even though it was a bit tense, you did not have to approach us. But you did. You made the effort, and I appreciate it. I am also writing because you invited us to be in contact with you and to express our thoughts on the actual bill itself. I am happy to take you up on this offer.
As I mentioned in our exchange this morning, I am a Tulane University professor in the Department of Latin American Studies. I don't speak on behalf of Tulane or my department, but only for myself. My own opinion comes from having dedicated almost my entire adult life to studying, research, and publishing on Latin American affairs; and I have been a careful student about the issue of immigration and immigration reform, since this subject affects many of the people with whom I associate both professionally and personally. I have coordinated conferences on the subject, I have spoken on a variety of panels as an expert on local Latino affairs, and I have been actively involved at the community level in advocacy work regarding immigration and other matters of importance to the local Latino community. I only mention this to you so that you will know that I am actually quite knowledgable of the issue and very much aware of its full dimensions. Some of your comments this morning seemed to imply that we were somehow ignorant of the subject, especially in terms of the impact of undocumented immigrants on the state's economy and its public finances, and that we thus needed to study up on the subject. I have to say that this implication came across as very patronizing. I can assure you, we are not a bunch of rabble-rousers, and are much more knowledgable of the subject than you presume. The fact that many of us did not contact you about the legislation when it first emerged should not come as a surprise. First, you are not my elected representative. In fact, I would imagine that you are not the elected representative of any one of us who were present. So, naturally, any contact we might make with the Legislature regarding any piece of legislation would be through our duly elected district representatives, especially legislation that we oppose and want no part of. Second, you are operating under the false premise that I agree with the core purpose of the bill (that the presence of undocumented immigrants in Louisiana is a problem that needs to be solved), and that it is only a question of tinkering with language that divides us in finding a solution to this supposed problem. As far as I go, this is not the case. I, as well as many of my colleagues, do not think this is a bill that should even be considered by the State Legislature in the first place. So why would you expect me to have contacted you to work together in crafting this bill when my opposition is to the very existence of such a bill? Third, while I certainly understand that the demands of time preclude you from talking with every single constituent who has a stake in this bill, I do believe that it should be incumbent upon you, as the bill's author, to at least try to seek out some guidance or advice from those with specialized knowledge of the subject, both among those who would support the bill and those who would oppose it. It's something that I would imagine forms a part of your legislative due diligence. Fourth, your indication this morning that we were somehow out of place in showing up at an open, public hearing on your bill to express our opposition and testify against it, was, frankly, quite astounding. Is that not precisely what these hearings are for? You spoke about the need to represent the best interests of the state and its citizens. I agree with you. And let me assure you that I believe this is precisely what I, and my colleagues, were hoping to do this morning in opposing this legislation. I will continue to oppose this bill in any form, not because I doubt your good intentions, but because the same spirit that forms the motivation for your good intentions leads me to do so. Sometimes, folks just disagree. And on this matter, we disagree. The legislative process, by guaranteeing open hearings and inviting public participation, provides for the resolution of such disagreements. I will do my small part to make the case to persuade your fellow legislators that this bill has no business in the Louisiana State Legislature and is bad for the state, and you can do your part to persuade them otherwise. The chips will fall where they will. We were not out of place this morning. On the contrary, we were in exactly the place we needed to be; and it is a place we have a right to be in a free, democratic society.

You can certainly gather from the note some of the things that came up in this hallway encounter. I'll try to relate the story more specifically later. For the moment, though, I'll leave you with this: instead of 40 folks in the Committee hearing room, Harrison better expect double or triple that amount next time.

1 comment:

Marco Balducci said...

Hey, Jimmy,

Glad you all were there to oppose 1205. I hope to be with you and to testify against the bill should Rep. Harrison bring it back.