The New York-based CNN producer wanted to know, "What about the situation in Kansas City, with the mayor, the Minutemen and Latino community, speaks to something more universal for the nation?"
She was fishing for an angle to tell our saga to a national television audience. Thankfully, this producer is also a proud graduate of the University of Missouri’s journalism program. She has no desire to exploit elements: a Minuteman grandmother given a plum parks board position, Heart of America folks gone rabid at the idea of illegal immigrants among them, and two leading civil rights organizations attempting to flex muscles via the 1960s boycott strategy.
By the week’s end, Kansas City will know if it will play host to three future conventions -- the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps -- or not. The national boards of the civil rights groups will meet. The producer will hang her story on their decisions.
But the answer to her question would drive the coverage: the sentiments in Kansas City are widespread: In small towns that lost population for decades, yet are being revitalized by immigrants and their businesses; in medium-sized cities where police agencies are unprepared to handle Spanish-speaking newcomers as both criminals and victims of crime; in school districts grappling with educating children learning English; and in industries like construction that are being heavily hit by lower wage, unauthorized labor.
As much as I wish the drama of the Frances Semler appointment would conclude, we really shouldn’t let it completely go away.
Clearly many people saw the boycott threats as a bunch of minorities throwing their undeserved weight around. The edge of "Who do those people think they are" is an attitude that didn’t just form after the parks board appointment.
But disagreeing with someone of a different race does not always mean the disagreement is about race. Lots of people have limited understandings about immigration processes and the workings of our borders. That doesn’t make them racist. It just means they are uninformed.
And there is the free speech issue. By twisting the Semler appointment into one of free speech, the original debate on immigration was conveniently bypassed.
A parks board member, anyone, has the right to any views they wish. But can we also look at how based in reality the positions are? And where do the sentiments diverge into attitudes that are harmful, not simply hurtful, to many Latinos?
While we were arguing about whether the term vigilante fits the Minutemen, the rest of the nation noted these developments:
A federal judge issued a preliminary ruling that stopped the use of government Social Security records as a way to fire people suspected of working illegally. The reason was the Social Security files are filled with inaccuracies and too many legal workers and U.S. citizens would likely be fired wrongly, costing businesses in lost productivity and possible lawsuits.
President Bush is considering changes to a visa category that would allow more low-wage workers to legally gain entry into the country for work.
Raids of businesses have rounded up immigrants suspected of working illegally. In some instances, Latinos who were U.S. citizens were detained. Children who are U.S.-born citizens came home from school where they found their parents missing, sent on their way to deportation.
Some businesses, finding that they can’t get enough workers to come to the United States because of immigration fears and crackdowns, have relocated south of the border, taking their tax bases along with their operations.
Each development could be discussed and understood better. That is not a call to silence some voices. Rather, it is a wish for calmer, better-informed voices.
Personally, after the television cameras leave, I’d welcome Kansas City simmering down to a normal conversation.