Sunday, March 26, 2006

Would you buy a used Fugitive Slave Act from this man?

James Sensenbrenner, the multi-jowled Wisconsin Republican congressman recently notorious for running away with the House Judiciary Committee gavel as a means of stifling unwelcome debate, is the primary author of just-passed anti-immigrant House bill 4437 which would make illegal alienhood a felony. The bill also specifies that anyone who shelters, harbors, hires, or helps an illegal alien is a criminal. Rep. Sensenbrenner said, by way of explanation for this draconian statute, "we've got to get control of our borders."

Wow! A law which could put eleven million immigrants behind bars, along with anyone who takes them in and shelters them, is right up there with the Fugitive Slave Act. You don't see something like this every day in Washington, even with a Republican congress. All eyes are now on the Senate. But for the moment, let's look back at the House, at Jim Sensenbrenner himself.

Mr. Sensenbrenner's ancestors, according to an online genealogy I find on the web, came to America from Alsace around 1850. Unfortunately, online genealogical information does not give us any evidence of when--or if--any of the original Sensenbrenners who came over the water became citizens.

In the mid 19th century, because of the ease of immigration (alas, we had no "control of our borders" at the time) combined with the difficulty of naturalization (somewhat more restrictive than today) the first citizens in an immigrant family would often be children who were minors at the time of their parents' immigration, or the children born here--either category automatically becoming good Americans without having to swear fealty to the new country or renounce the old.

So it is entirely possible that the first Sensenbrenner to be a certifiable American was Congressman Sensenbrenner's grandfather Frank, the inventor of Kotex, who was born in 1864 in Wisconsin, son of a man who came here without papers. (Yes, yes, I know, everyone came here without papers--that's kinda my point.) Maybe he came because of perceived political oppression by the French--certainly one of the few plausible motives I can think of for someone to emigrate from Alsace to Wisconsin before the Civil War to become a farmer.

The reason I go on about the ancestors of Rep. Sensenbrenner (or "Tex" as he is called--a nickname that reportedly displeases him, indicating a modest but not unexpected deficit in his grasp of the comic) is that those ancestors, if they came over today would--under the statute he introduced and hopes will become law--be deported or imprisoned, along with the crew of the boat that brought them.

For an immigrant to come here without documents, to work hard so that his son would be in a position to make a fortune in paper products which could ultimately fund the political campaigns of a remotely descended racist congressman, would now earn him hard time in the federal correctional system, under Mr. Sensenbrenner's bill. Or, if the Homeland Security Apparat was operating in its most benevolent mode, such an Alsatian immigrant would, at best, all be bundled up with his family and sent back, without much benefit of due process, to the Old Country where their rights as good Germans would surely receive but scant respect, Alsace now being once again French.

I know it's an old American tradition that once you get here you energetically help haul up the ladder behind you. But why Tex Sensenbrenner should actually believe a choleric, bloated, red-faced Republican pol is somehow entitled to live all his life off the earnings of his grandfather and hold powerful public office courtesy of a fortuitous boat ticket bought by his undocumented great-grandfather, but that Mexicans who presently come here to build our houses and harvest our crops, should be rounded up and deported or imprisoned, escapes me.

I don't think anyone tried to ask Tex about that, cuz he would have cut off discussion and run away with the gavel with a haste that woulda made all his chins jiggle, and surely we would have read about that in the papers.

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