Immigration and the Heckler's Veto

'Shut up!' they explained, plus a fuller picture from Frederick

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 9, 2019

Two recent articles about immigration from the Washington Post, one discussing separate outdoor rallies on October 6, 2019, about the 287(g) program in Frederick, Md., and another detailing the aborted attempts of Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan to give keynote remarks at a conference at Georgetown University the next day, underscore the nature of discourse on the topic in the United States today. Not to give away the ending, but it is not the healthy debate that this weighty subject deserves.

First, there is this bit of insight from Frederick County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D): "People are having a visceral reaction to the divisiveness of the nation. ... It's tearing our county apart." When you glance over this statement, it appears to be the sort of bland observation that one would expect to hear from a major player in what is essentially the Single A-baseball of American politics. That is probably a little unfair to the local Class A Frederick Keys, which has a lovely ballpark and several good food selections for fans.

When read more closely, however, the insipid banality of the statement becomes clear. "People are having a visceral reaction to the divisiveness"? Doesn't the visceral reaction cause the divisiveness? One rarely has a visceral reaction to something we all agree on (if there is anything left). And is the "visceral reaction" or the "divisiveness of the nation" the thing that is "tearing our country apart"? Visceral reactions are responses to things, not something that tears anything apart (unless its your viscera, in which case, see your doctor, stat). And the "divisiveness of the nation" is just another description of a country torn apart.

As if on cue to prove that even the most mindless points have some merit, the Post the next day reported on the October 7, 2019, response that McAleenan received during his remarks at Georgetown:

McAleenan was scheduled to address an audience of lawyers, immigration policy analysts and students at an annual conference organized by the Migration Policy Institute [MPI] in Washington.

Demonstrators holding banners with messages including "Hate is not normal" repeatedly interrupted McAleenan as he tried to start his speech. The protesters cited McAleenan's role in the separation of migrant families last year under the administration's "zero tolerance" policy, and they shouted out the names of children who died after being taken into U.S. custody along the border.

McAleenan then attempted to appease the mob with some statements about his dedication to the right to freedom of speech, and his interest in civil discourse on the issue, which failed to have the desired palliative effect:

At that point McAleenan was cut off again, with shouts of: "What do we do when children are under attack? Stand up, fight back!"

He then thanked his hosts and left the stage.

Not exactly the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It does not appear, however, that the slobbering throng consisted of lawyers, immigration policy analysts, or students. Rather, MPI blamed "a group called CREDO Action". The article continues: "The same group has demonstrated outside McAleenan's home."

I assume that "CREDO" is an acronym (I really don't care to do them the dignity of looking it up), but it is an insightful one. It is likely no coincidence that "credo" means "I believe" in Latin. Therein lies the ironic problem.

Again, I have no information about this group aside from its actions at an MPI conference at Georgetown University on October 7, 2019, but I assume that its actions are in keeping with the group's nature and purpose. In essence, what those actions were saying (assuming the adage "actions speak louder than words" is correct) is: "We believe what we believe, and we don't want anyone to tell us anything different." This appears to be a fixture of many positions on immigration (and most other major political questions) in 2019: What we believe must be true because of how strongly we believe it.

There is a prevailing belief among certain factions in our society that they are people of science, and therefore follow the truth. I have no idea who is correct in most of these debates (including the one I just cited), but consider the following from the Democratic Party platform:

The Obama administration took unprecedented steps to use technology as an instrument to restore faith, transparency, and accountability to government, and Democrats are fighting to protect his work so we can harness the ingenuity and experience of all Americans to increase efficiency and effectiveness of government.

I will take them at their word, and eagerly await their demand that Acting Secretary McAleenan be allowed to make his statements. Plainly, he is an individual of exceptional experience, as his biography on the DHS website shows. Not since Talleyrand (or possibly David Gergen) has a high-ranking government official been able to move so seamlessly between parties of such disparate interests.

This is no slight — he knows his stuff, and therefore has proven himself indispensable to President George W. Bush (whose administration presented him the "Service to America Medal, Call to Service Award"), President Obama (who gave him the nation's highest civil-service award, the "Presidential Rank Award"), and to President Trump (who named him to his current post). There is also plainly a level of ingenuity there for simply surviving to get to this point.

The odd thing is to contrast the melee at the hallowed Jesuit halls of Georgetown with the scene in Frederick as described by the Post. The headline of the Post article is "Immigration wars: In a small Md. city, dueling protests inflamed by rhetoric — and visitors — from Washington". Despite the headline, if you read the article, there was not a battle, but instead two different rallies. Here is the description of the pro-immigration-enforcement rally:

In Baker's Park, surrounded by yellow police tape and more than two dozen officers, protesters praised the [287(g)] agreement forged by Jenkins 11 years ago, which allows federal agencies to call on local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration-related orders. The program has led to the deportation of more than 1,500 Frederick residents, authorities say, the vast majority undocumented.

Left out of the description of those 1,500 Frederick residents is: "and all of them arrested for a crime". But I digress.

Here is the paper's description of the opposition rally, a few blocks away: "About 200 opponents of the sheriff's actions gathered with homemade pupusas, a mariachi band and a Democratic congressman who offered aphorisms from the Founding Fathers."

The Post asserted: "The protests mark a boiling point in a politically tense year for Frederick County, a growing jurisdiction that was once a Republican stronghold but has recently turned more blue." Respectfully, there is nothing in these descriptions that sounds like a "boiling point" (pupusas, a "classic Salvadoran dish" are actually fried in "a cast-iron skillet or griddle"); instead, it sounds like two different groups each expressing its own, divergent, opinion. Quite unlike the MPI conference, but it is questionable whether CREDO Action could have gotten a positive rally together to present its rhyming points of view.

Of course, as the foregoing shows, the Post could not simply tell a straightforward story without some spin, suggesting there may be more to the events. Of the pro-287(g) rally, it asserted:

Speakers included Thomas Homan, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Dan Stein, president of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR], which supports President Trump's immigration polices [sic] and has been designated as a hate group with links to white supremacists by the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC]. There were also women who said their family members had been killed in car accidents caused by undocumented immigrants.

It is interesting that the Post asserted that FAIR "has been been designated as a hate group with links to white supremacists by the" SPLC, but failed to note any of the recent allegations that have been launched against the SPLC itself (detailed in The New Yorker, no less, as well as in the Post).

It is also odd that the paper went to print without confirming whether or not the assertions of the "women who said their family members had been killed in car accidents caused by undocumented immigrants" were true (or even giving their names), leaving the veracity of those unnamed women's claims hanging out there for its readers.

Finally, it is interesting that the Post informed its readers that there were "[a]bout 200 opponents of the sheriff's actions" enjoying pupusas, mariachi bands, and the stirring words of the Founding Fathers from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) without mentioning how many people were supporting 287(g).

Here is what the local Frederick News-Post had to say:

Hundreds filled the seats at the bandshell and the surrounding areas to hear from Jenkins, along with several others that if Frederick County doesn't keep the program, it will turn into Montgomery County, labeled a "sanctuary county" by many in attendance.


Several residents from Montgomery County also spoke during the rally, including members of "Angel Families," a group of people who have lost relatives and friends because of actions committed by people living in the country illegally.

Marla Wolff, whose husband, Carlos, worked for the FBI before Roberto Garza Palacios, who was in the country illegally, struck and killed him with a vehicle on I-270 in 2017, implored continuation of the program.

"I beg you for those of you who think the 287(g) program is about racism ... the officers want to work with ICE ... and they want to protect you," she said before thanking Jenkins.

I assume that Wolff was one of the women whom the Washington Post could not be bothered to identify. Curiously, had the Post reporter in Frederick bothered to check the paper's archives, she would have found this, from May 1, 2018:

An off-duty FBI agent, driving at night on a highway north of Washington, veered left and crashed into a concrete median. Another off-duty law enforcement officer, by chance on the same road, stopped to help. Both got out of their vehicles and were hit on the road shoulder by another car, their bodies hurled over the median into the opposing lanes, where one was hit again by yet another car.


FBI agent Carlos Wolff, 36, a husband and father of two young children, barely made it to the hospital before he died.

The driver of the car that hit the two was identified as "Roberto A. Garza Palacios". A Post article four days later stated that ICE took him into custody because he was a national of Guatemala who was in the United States illegally after overstaying a work visa that expired in 2009.

Nor was the opposition to 287(g) as halcyon as the Post reported. Again, from the Frederick News-Post:

At one point as Jenkins spoke, a handful of residents, including Board of Education member Liz Barrett, stood in silent protest near the front of the bandshell.

After one attendee approached them with a sign of support for ICE and 287(g), the group chose to leave, and police escorted them away from the bandshell through the nearby playground. Shortly afterward, one of the counter-protesters then was subsequently tackled and arrested after being briefly chased by police.

Frederick Police Capt. Dwight Sommers said the man who was arrested struck an officer before being chased and tackled. That man will likely be charged with disorderly conduct and possibly second-degree assault, Sommers added.

Perhaps Barrett should stand up and fight back when children are attacked. Take, for example, "Eberson Guerra Sanchez, a ninth grader who went to Tuscarora High School in Frederick". His mutilated body was found under Chain Bridge in D.C. in April following what was believed to be an MS-13 attack.

The Department of Justice has confirmed that: "'Branches or 'cliques' of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout ... Frederick County, Maryland." There are descriptions of those crimes for those who are interested.

It is also curious that the Post omitted both the assault on the officer and the "silent protest" from its reporting. There are no statements in either paper that anyone who was in favor of 287(g) attempted to disrupt (or even went to) the "rally in support of immigrants", as the paper described it.

The term "heckler's veto" has a legal definition, but also one that is better understood in the context of the MPI conference. As the Huffington Post has explained:

Outside of legal parlance, it has come to mean that the heckler himself creates the veto and suppresses the speech by creating the violent reaction or the threat of violent reaction. The end result of this is usually that the individual who is potentially being heckled will self-censor for fear of the reaction it might create.

Plainly, that is a fair description of CREDO Action's performance, and McAleenan's response, at Georgetown.

The heckler's veto would not describe the Post's reporting. The paper, however, made one-sided inflammatory claims, left out some critical facts about opponents of 287(g), and just plain failed to follow up on some reasonably confirmable facts that would have favored the pro-287(g) crowd.

It would be difficult to describe the Post's piece on the two rallies in Frederick as balanced, at a minimum. That reporting did little to inform the public about this complex issue, which would have perhaps have made the nation a little less divided, and made responses to the issue of immigration enforcement a little more enlightened and a little less visceral. Perhaps the Post should heed the words of Frederick County Council President Keegan-Ayer about divisiveness.