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The politics of immigration

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, November 22, 2014 9:00 p.m.

“Go ahead. Impeach him. Make our day.” That spin on Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is the response of some Democrats, expressed hopefully and in private, when Republicans vow to impeach President Obama for taking steps to protect undocumented immigrants now living in America.

Never mind that President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush basically did the same thing, many Republicans are outraged by the very notion of Obama doing it. To protect families, both signed executive orders that blocked the deportation of large classes of immigrants.

Reagan and Bush both acted alone — after Congress was unable to correct glaring inequities in existing law — and their executive actions prompted no cries for impeachment from either party. As expected, some Republicans are going though gyrations to show that it was different then. Of course, it is always different when your guys did it.

Some Republican leaders are trying to steer their party away from nuclear options, urging restraint. They must remember that after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, LBJ reportedly said, “We have lost the South for a generation.” And the prognosis here is the same: If you break faith with an entire culture, you will lose their support for a long time.

Blocking, derailing and frustrating fair measures to protect families could put the rapidly growing Latino and Hispanic communities beyond the reach of the Republican Party for generations. And by punishing the president for protecting those families, Republicans risk making the president and his party the heroes of those communities.

In Robert Redford’s movie “Jeremiah Johnson,” the title character is schooled in the wisdom and ways of the Rocky Mountain Native Americans by Del Gue, a grizzled veteran of those parts. When Johnson wonders why he is being relentlessly attacked, Gue says, “A tribe’s greatness is figured on how mighty its enemies be.”

The Republicans are surely mighty enough to impeach President Obama, especially with their bolstered majority in the House of Representatives after January. They can even shut down the government again, or fuss with the budget, since they will control the Senate, too. But is that the message they want America to hear?

There is another way, a guide for all politicians, especially those now encamped and hostile. It comes from an unexpected turn in the life of Francis of Assisi. In 1219, Francis traveled to the Middle East in the thick of the Fifth Crusade, hoping to promote peace.

When the Christian armies took a thumping, Francis pushed forward. He was captured, cuffed around and hauled before the warrior-philosopher Sultan Malik al-Kamil, half-expecting martyrdom. But once the obligatory attempts to convert each other failed, they simply talked.

For the next three weeks, they focused on their mutual interest in peace, justice and the fundamental similarities of their cultures, not the considerable differences. And, as scholars now note, both men were changed through honest dialogue.

Those two reasoned together and found common ground — a good thing for politicians everywhere.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (joemistick.com).

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