Setting the Record Straight for Beto O'Rourke

Tired, erroneous talking points from a flailing candidate

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 22, 2019

Ostensibly, Beto O'Rourke is still running for president. And, in a likely sign of desperation for that campaign, he is peddling half-truths and falsehoods in an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of voters, this time about "kids in cages".

From a USA Today report about an October 6, 2019, rally that he held in a bar in Phoenix, Ariz.:

He respectfully dispatched a question from a woman in the crowd from an anti-illegal immigration group, who arrived with others who appeared looking for confrontation. The woman called him by his given name, Robert, and asked why he was "pandering to illegal aliens" over those who came to the U.S. legally.


The crowd chanted her down while O'Rourke responded by saying in part, "What is a slap in the face to my conscience and the best traditions of this country is taking kids from their parents and putting them in cages." His closing response to her: "Those immigrants pose no threat to you."

That is a "respectful[] dispatch[]?" Apparently, he did not stop there, according to an opinion piece in the same paper from "Angel Mom" Mary Ann Mendoza: "Even worse, he talked about the seven children who have died in immigration custody over the last few years — all of them tragic, none of them due to foul play on the part of Americans."

Where to begin?

Snopes (not exactly a Trump-friendly outlet) examined the following fact: "The Obama administration, not the Trump administration, built the cages that hold many immigrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border." They deemed that statement "true", explaining:

Pictures of children behind chain-link fencing were captured at a site in McAllen, Texas, that had been converted from a warehouse to an immigrant-detention facility in 2014. Social media users who defended Trump's immigration policies also shared a 2014 photograph of Obama's Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, touring a facility in Nogales, Arizona, in 2014, in which the fencing could be seen surrounding migrants there as well. That picture was taken during a spike in the number of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central American countries.

The website continued, referencing a statement made by former Homeland Security Secretary Johnson during a June 2019 interview at the Aspen Institute: "Very clearly, chain link, barriers, partitions, fences, cages, whatever you want to call them, were not invented on January 20, 2017, OK." It continued:

During the Aspen interview, Johnson said that use of the "cage" detention housing method was supposed to be temporary, and that under the law, children were only supposed to be kept in those facilities for 72 hours before being transferred to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). "But during that 72-hour period, when you have something that is a multiple, like four times, of what you're accustomed to in the existing infrastructure, you've got to find places quickly to put kids. You can't just dump 7-year-old kids on the streets of McAllen or El Paso."

The chain-link fences, Johnson said, were to separate people by gender and age until they were released or transferred to HHS's care.

I was unable to find any comment by then-Rep. O'Rourke (D-Texas) about those conditions under the Obama administration using date restrictions on Google, although I note that his campaign website says that he served on the House Homeland Security Committee at the time (and also that "London Calling" by The Clash changed his life, so we have that in common).

In a February 2019 post, I explained the role that Democrats in Congress played in what O'Rourke appears to be alluding to: the "zero-tolerance" policy that was followed, briefly, by the Trump administration in order to stem the flow of parents travelling with children illegally across the United States border. And I also explained the role that the Democrats who then controlled the Justice Department played in the broadening of the Flores settlement agreement, which mandates that even children accompanied by their parents be released from the custody of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) within 20 days. I also explained how the Flores agreement has encouraged those parents to bring their children with them when they make the harrowing, and often deadly, journey to the United States.

And in a May 2019 post, I talked about how Congress (and in particular Democrats in Congress) were then making the situation of unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) worse by not providing funding that the administration had been pleading for to move them out of DHS custody to the HHS custody that former Secretary Johnson was alluding to above. The caption of that post? "Where Is the Anger Over Children Suffering at the Border?" Apparently, O'Rourke found it at that bar in Phoenix, but significantly misdirected.

Why do I say "significantly misdirected"? One needs only read the "Final Emergency Interim Report" from the Homeland Security Advisory Committee's bipartisan CBP Families and Children Care Panel, which talks about the significant trauma that UACs suffer on the journey to the United States, and the causes of that trauma — almost all of which are the result of soft-hearted but bone-headed decisions that have been made by Congress and the courts in the past. In fact, I argued that "Congress, Judges, the Media, and Everyone Else Needs to Read this Bipartisan Report Before Opining on the Border" in an August 2019 post.

"Everyone else" especially includes presidential candidates.

So why would these candidates (and others) fall back on such flawed arguments in their speeches? A recent article in Politico might offer some guidance.

That article, captioned "How Democrats Can Turn Immigration Into Trump's Kryptonite, There's a story about immigration that can unite the country, not divide it further", explains:

[I]n trying to distinguish themselves from an unpopular president, Democrats might be losing the battle for a substantial segment of the voting population — moderate Republicans, independents and some traditional Democratic voters — by adopting extremely progressive positions on immigration, whether it's abolishing ICE, providing government health care for the undocumented or glorifying immigrants as economic superheroes.

It is almost as if the authors were channeling my latest post. More importantly for purposes of this post, however, the authors state: "To the extent that voters feel strongly about immigration, it is culture and American identity that drive the debate on those issues, not policy."

As an attorney (non-practicing) and former congressional staffer, I have learned that there are three methods by which you can make an argument: appeals to identity, to analogy, and to logic — listed. regrettably, in declining order of effectiveness.

Much of the immigration debate is centered on appeals to identity: That is why you hear the words "nation of immigrants", and references to the Statue of Liberty and the speaker's immigrant ancestors whenever immigration is discussed. I avoid such arguments because they are lazy: It is what the Know-Nothing Party and open-borders advocates have in common, whether they realize it or not. For what it is worth, it is the basis for most arguments that ask you to "think about the children". We all once were children, and most of us have children or are close to those who do, so how could you take a contrary position against the children? Logic gets shut out of the argument, as rocks (usually metaphorical) get thrown at the opposition.

It is also why certain lazy commentators seek to shut down immigration debate by labelling their opponents as "hate groups", when in reality they are nothing of the sort. In essence, the argument goes as follows: "There are us good people on this side of the argument, and those bad hate groups on the other, so why would you ever listen the THOSE PEOPLE?" This is not to say that there are not real hate groups, or arguments that are so morally repugnant that they do not merit a response, but the phrase all too often (especially when discussing immigration) gets thrown at innocent individuals with legitimate viewpoints.

This was the point that then-Chairwoman of the Commission on Immigration Reform Barbara Jordan was making when she stated in February 1995:

To make sense about the national interest in immigration, it is necessary to make distinctions between those who obey the law, and those who violate it. Therefore, we disagree, also, with those who label our efforts to control illegal immigration as somehow inherently anti-immigrant. Unlawful immigration is unacceptable.

Jordan was a civil rights icon who knew a thing or two about hate groups. But what would the response from O'Rourke be if Jordan (long dead, unfortunately) were to make this point in a Phoenix bar during a campaign "discussion" on a Sunday? She would likely get "respectfully dispatched" by the same appeals to identity he used earlier this month.

Unfortunately, "logic" is often the first casualty of immigration politics today. But against identity politicians, it is the only weapon we have left.

Topics: Politics