Dear Congressman Brooks

Aug 20, 2014, 9:30 PM | Updated: Aug 21, 2014, 2:17 am

Dear Congressman Brooks,

Like many Americans, I’ve heard that you think there’s a “war on whites” and President Obama is leading the charge. I’ve also heard that you would do “anything short of shooting” undocumented immigrants to keep them from taking jobs from American citizens.

That’s pretty dramatic and probably not very helpful as your Republican Party looks forward to the 2016 presidential election. Before I presume to offer you some advice, let me say that we have some things in common. I can see from your picture you are a white male, so you are the progeny of immigrants. I am too, but I’m well aware of the fact that there were people of color living here long before our ancestors arrived. I know what it took to conquer those indigenous peoples and steal their land. So I’m careful about getting too worked up about immigrants because I too trace my roots back to someplace other than America.

We’re also of the same generation. I’m a few years older, but not enough to make a difference, so I put us both in the “Old White Guys” category. You and I, our fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, all the way back, have had the distinct advantage of being white males. We were the slave owners, not the slaves. We were the conquerors, not the conquered. If our forefathers were here in 1776 and owned land, they were among the small group of white men who were “created equal” and had the right to vote. No one else did.

Congressman Brooks, we Old White Guys have had a long run, but it’s coming to an end. That may be tough to hear, but the world is getting smaller every day. Countries that are yellow and brown and black are becoming richer and more powerful. Women continue their march to equality with men. I am convinced that the more power and responsibility they assume, the clearer it will become that we’ve needed their talents and sensibilities in positions of power for centuries.

Here at home, there are growing efforts to embrace diversity, to extend equal rights and respect to people who are not like you and me. That is right and proper and isn’t a war on us. It’s simply the acknowledgement that we are all brothers and sisters, equal in our humanity.

I know you are a smart, well-educated person. No slouch could get through Duke University in just three years with a double major in economics and political science and go on to get a law degree from the University Of Alabama School Of Law. But I think you are seeing the immigration issue through a lens distorted by bigotry and demagoguery. Our country was built on the backs of immigrants (many forced here against their will) and we need their talents and perspectives more than ever.

I know that your state passed some pretty tough anti-immigration legislation three years ago. How did that work for you? I know Alabama farmers immediately complained that they didn’t have the workers they needed to harvest their crops. And I know that many of those “illegal” workers have returned to Alabama because, I guess, they weren’t taking jobs from Americans after all.

I also know that you represent the sixth-poorest state in the nation in Congress and that two of Alabama’s poorest counties are in your district. I’m sure you are aware that our country had four million job openings last month. You are a powerful, influential person so I wonder why your focus isn’t on doing whatever you can to make sure your constituents are ready to fill those jobs instead of railing against people who appear to be doing the jobs we won’t.

Here’s something you could do. My advice is to work to declare your district immigrant friendly. Dayton, Ohio was in pretty sorry shape and leaders there decided to try and take advantage of what they saw as an untapped resource — immigrants. If you didn’t read the Time Magazine story about their success, just click here. If you think Dayton’s experience might help your district and your state, click here. The city of Dayton has been kind enough to share what they accomplished and how they did it.

I know there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Yuma that you will take my advice or change your mind and heart. I suspect your vitriol comes from a place of fear about the changes you’ve seen in our lifetimes and fear that those changes are accelerating. Change is almost always uncomfortable and sometimes scary. But if our worst problems are foreigners coming here (as our forefathers did) because they are attracted by all this country has to offer, and the fact that our sons won’t have the power and influence we have, we’ll be OK. It’s not a war, congressman. It’s just change and we’ve succeeded in adapting to change since the dawn of time.



Paul Burkett

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Dear Congressman Brooks