Archive for the ‘Brian Bilbray’ Tag
Democratic challenger Francine Busby took to the stage last night to take a few proverbial swings at Republican incumbent Congressman Brian Bilbray in their first and only scheduled debate. A standing room only, bitterly partisan crowd gathered in the Del Norte High School Performing Arts Center in 4S Ranch to see the event and cheer on their candidate. It was a scene more befitting a highly charged college basketball game than a political debate, with only slightly less decorum than a kindergarten classroom.
It was a microcosm of just how sharply divided this county, and country, really are.
Busby wasted no time in jabbing at her Republican opponent, chiding him for representing the interests of lobbyist and big business instead of the people who elected him. Throughout the night, she repeatedly brought up the highly controversial Congressional Cigar Association, the lobbying front established by Bilbray that hosts get-togethers for members of Congress and their staffers to mingle with the lobbyists who fund it.
“The Congressional Cigar Association is a betrayal of the trust of the people, and shows the lack of integrity on Mr. Bilbray’s part,” Busby said. “He claims to support small business, yet he voted against tax breaks for small business. He voted against laws to increase lending to small businesses. He voted against financial reform. He voted to loosen restrictions on concealed weapons in school zones.”
Bilbray, for his part, tried to hit at the core issues of the day. “Currently one in ten San Diegans is unemployed. One out of every three dollars spent in Washington is borrowed.”
When queried by moderator Kent Davy, Editor of the North County Times, about the Bush tax cuts, whether to extend them or let them expire, and how they should be paid for if extended, Bilbray stuck to the Republican script: “It won’t be a tax cut, but it will be a tax increase if they expire. We should maintain the rates we have in place.”
“We’re not talking about a revenue problem. We have a spending problem,” Bilbray said. However, Bilbray did not enumerate what cuts he would like to see, and how much it would save, and did not present any plan to pay for them.
“Four tax cuts have created an enormous debt,” Busby began. “We have a growing deficit, and our economy is in a recession.”
The current deficit, she said, was “caused by the wars and the Bush tax cuts.”
Busby voiced her support for the Democrat’s plan to maintain the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, but allow them to expire for the top 2% of earners. “We want infrastructure investments. We want our taxes invested in our communities.”
On the subject of immigration, a particular hot button for Bilbray, and specifically the DREAM Act: “The DREAM Act is a cynical way of running a new amnesty program through. It eliminates all immigration standards, and will further harm the working class.”
Busby, not surprisingly, took a different stance: “Children brought here by immigrants did not commit a crime.” She says she supports the DREAM Act, which provides a path to legal status for those young people who attend a four year college or university for at least two years, or serve two years in the military.
“We must take a comprehensive approach to immigration reform,” Busby said, for which she was loudly booed by the Bilbray supporters in the audience.
She also reminded the audience that Bilbray was a paid lobbyist to the tune of over $300,000 for the anti-immigration organization FAIR, which has been deemed as an anti-immigrant “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And while Bilbray does not support the concept of comprehensive reform, he does tout the implementation of an E-Verify system to aid employers in identifying those workers here legally.
On the subject of campaign finance reform, Bilbray expressed “concern” about the recent Supreme Court ruling on the “Citizens United” case, which for the first time allows corporate interests to put their direct financial support behind a candidate or political cause without requiring the source of the funds to be identified.
“We should require full disclosure in our political campaigns,” Bilbray said. “I was one of the seven members of Congress to work on campaign finance laws.”
Citizens United “undermines our democracy,” Busby said. She then pointed out that Bilbray chose not to vote for campaign finance disclosure. “Mr. Bilbray opened the back door for lobbyists to come in” and influence our political system, referring to Bilbray’s Congressional Cigar Association. “Is your member of Congress voting for you?”
Davy, the moderator, then turned to the topic of jobs and the economy, saying that the stimulus bill did not deliver many jobs.
“I’m glad you pointed out that the stimulus didn’t work,” Bilbray answered. “Of the stimulus, only 3 ½ % went to roads. But here’s where we can work together: There is $1 trillion in private capital overseas that is waiting to be invested. We need do everything we can to bring that money here to the U.S.”
“The purpose of the stimulus bill was to stop us from falling into another Great Depression, and for that IT WORKED!” declared Busby. “There is $37 billion in federal funding here in San Diego County, and that creates jobs.”
“There is a clear decision for voters to make. Mrs. Busby wants Washington to have tax money more than she wants San Diegans to have jobs,” Bilbray jabbed.
Mr. Bilbray “talks a lot about jobs and spending, but he voted against small business tax cuts, and he voted against greater access to loans,” Busby countered.
On the subject of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and the government’s role in single sex marriage, Bilbray said he voted against pushing it (DADT) aside. “We have to let the military complete its study on the effects of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We have to let them decide what’s in their best interests.”
“Government has historically been involved in defining marriage in order to protect the children who are perceived to be the issue. Utah statehood was held up over the definition of marriage.”
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is about the Constitution. We need to let people serve their country who want to serve. Tens of thousands of LGBT have served with honor, dignity, and courage, and then have been asked to leave,” Busby said. “We demand equal rights in this country, and Congress has no business legislating against gay marriage.”
“We must respect individual and personal rights. People should be able to serve in the military and live with who they want,” she continued.
On gun control, Bilbray lamented the fact that the First Amendment is given so much reverence, but the Second Amendment is not treated with the same weight. “We need to be able to protect our children. My stance on gun rights is a good example of why law enforcement has so strongly endorsed me.”
“I respect the Second Amendment,” Busby told the audience. “But we must have certain restrictions. There should be no concealed weapons allowed in school zones. And there’s no reason for us to allow assault weapons on our streets.” The Founding Fathers, Busby pointed out, did not have assault weapons whose sole purpose is to kill many people in a short amount of time in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.
Busby repeatedly reminded the audience of San Diego County’s position to become a key player in the race to develop clean energy, and her desire to promote San Diego as the hub for clean tech/bio tech development, while pointing to the Koch brothers, owners of the largest privately owned oil company in the country, who have thrown their support behind Bilbray.
On health care reform, Bilbray chided Democrats in Congress for pushing through a bill without knowing what is in the bill. “We need to bring back the entire bill to the floor, and expose it so that everyone can see what’s in it,” he said. “And we need to empower individuals to buy insurance policies across state lines.” (Which the health care bill does, while defining the minimum levels of coverage to be provided.) “The CBO,” Bilbray continued, “calls this bill a major expense.”
“The goal is to have everyone have access to affordable, quality health care in this country. And we’ve taken the first step toward that goal.” The health care bill is not perfect, Busby said, but it certainly points us in the right direction.
It was a highly contentious evening that appeared to further entrench both sides behind their candidates. And the contrast between the two sides could not have been more clear, particularly at the mention of off-shore drilling in California, which the Republican partisans and Bilbray supporters cheered, and Busby and her supporters vehemently oppose.
The debate served to settle very little. There was very little agreement between the two sides, and the contrasts could not have been more distinct. One thing was very apparent to those in attendance: Passions are running very high this election season, and there is a lot at stake for San Diego County and the United States a whole.
Section 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Ratified July 9, 1868. Citizenship has been a birthright in the United States for over two centuries. It was ratified as absolute into the U.S. Constitution in 1868, and has been an unquestioned pillar of American society ever since. Apparently until now, that is.
If two United States Congressmen from San Diego have their way, the right of citizenship will no longer be bestowed upon those born within U.S. borders or in U.S. territories. And if they have their way, the children born of immigrants in the country illegally will effectively retroactively have their citizenship revoked and be deported along with their parents.
This past weekend, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) spoke at a Tea Party gathering in Ramona, CA, a more rural community in East San Diego County. Hunter was asked whether he thought that U.S. born children of illegal immigrants should be deported along with their parents. Hunter: “I would have to, yes. And let me tell you why. You can say, ‘You are a mean guy. That’s not a humanitarian thing to do.’ We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now. We just can’t afford it. California is going under. We’re not being mean. We’re just saying, ‘It takes more than just walking across the border to become an American citizen.’ It’s within our souls.”
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA), when asked about Hunter’s comments, agreed, telling the North County Times that “if the parents are deported, their U.S.-born children should go with them unless the parents can find a legal resident guardian who can take care of the kids.”
So much for Republican “family values.” What Hunter and Bilbray want everyone to believe, and what the supporters of the Arizona anti-immigration law seem to imply, is that all immigrants are criminals. They’re here to cheat our system, steal from us, and murder our citizens. They don’t belong in our country, period. The image they want to leave you with is that anyone of a darker complexion that might come from another country should be treated as suspicious because it is assumed they’re here to do you or your property harm; they are a drain on our system and a threat to our way of life.
What they don’t tell you, and what they don’t want you to know, is that the overwhelming majority of immigrants—legal and illegal alike—are good, decent, hard-working people simply looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. They don’t want you to know that they pay their taxes (and in the case of illegal workers, without getting any of the benefits that most taxpayers are entitled to), that they are active in their church communities, that their children excel in school.
My brother is an attorney. When he was in law school, he worked on a case where a family that had been here in California illegally faced deportation. The parents came here dirt poor with their two children. The father worked in the fields as a picker for several years, before finding a job at a McDonald’s where he used root through the dumpster to find food to feed his family. He eventually found a job cleaning a school. In the country illegally, he was forced to use someone else’s social security number in order to get on the payroll. He paid his taxes, but received no benefits. He was a hard worker and well liked, and as such he was promoted several times. He also volunteered his time to clean his church, eventually being asked to lead a crew of 20 to clean various churches around the area.
His wife found a job washing dishes in a cafeteria near a prison, and worked her way up through the ranks. She was eventually promoted to store manager. They were both active in their church and were very generous in donating their time to various charities.
They brought with them two children, the oldest of whom was four when they arrived in the U.S. He became the Valedictorian of his high school class with a 4.0+ GPA, was a football star, an Eagle Scout, active in various church charities……Upon graduation from high school, unable to obtain financing for college due to his immigration status, he was forced to take a job washing dishes in a restaurant while attending junior college when he could afford it.
Their second child was also an excellent student. In addition to her church charity work, while still in high school, she started her own charity to clothe the poor in the Bay Area.
A third child was born here in the United States, and thus was afforded automatic citizenship. He too became an honors student, a Boy Scout, and by the age of 12 was designing websites and writing basic computer programs in his spare time. He had aspirations of becoming an officer in the United States Air Force.
Tired of living a lie and in constant fear, desperate to find a way to normalize their immigration status, they were convinced by an attorney that he could help them, but only if they turned themselves in to the INS. They were immediately placed into deportation proceedings while the attorney, who had taken $15,000 from the family, walked away from the case.
Their cause was taken up on a pro bono basis by a group of immigration attorneys along with several law students, including my brother. They immediately filed for a Cancellation of Removal, arguing that by deporting the parents, they would also be forced to deport the youngest child, a U.S. citizen (which cannot legally be done). They had no relatives, no family in the U.S., so there was no one to look after the youngest had the family been separated. So in effect, they would be deporting a U.S. citizen.
The youngest (by this time a young teenager) did not speak or read Spanish well at all. Had he been forced to attend a Mexican school, he would have been set back several years. His grades would plummet (remember, he was an honors student), he would suffer the severe psychological and emotional damage of having been ripped out of his own culture. In his anguish and frustration, this incredibly bright young man, a model citizen and certain future leader, would most assuredly become a delinquent. “When he grew up and came back to the U.S., as is his right, he would likely become a burden to society.”
During the short trial, the white, southern born and bred, ex-warden judge heard testimony from the town mayor, the boy’s teachers, the Boy Scout leaders, and a child psychologist. After four hours of proceedings, the judge was ready to issue his ruling.
As a result of the trial, the parents were issued green cards, and after five years, were eligible to apply for citizenship themselves. The two older children, however, were left without legal status.
There are many, many other stories similar to this one. These are the stories that the “Nativists” like Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray, Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, FAIR, and others of their ilk don’t want you to know about. They don’t want you to find out that they contribute to society and are not the pocks Conservatives tirelessly scream about.
What our country needs is real immigration reform. We need to provide an avenue for the good and decent people who want to be a part of our society to normalize their immigration status and work toward becoming U.S. citizens. We need to streamline the process for legal immigration, including extensive background checks, so that desperate people no longer have to risk everything in order to come to our country. We do need to tighten our borders and strengthen our border security to keep the parasites—the drug dealers, the gun runners, the career criminals—out of our country. And we also need Mexico to do its part and improve conditions in their society so that so many people no longer feel the need to abandon their own country in favor of ours.
What we don’t need is for our politicians to wave the Constitution around when it suits them, but to completely eschew it when it becomes an inconvenience. You can’t have it both ways; either you’re for Constitutional rights or you’re not. If we start allowing U.S. citizens to be deported, then where will it end? Where do you draw the line? And what’s to stop that line from getting moved farther and farther back to the point where any citizen can be denied his or her rights on the whim of a person with power?
What we are witnessing now is the rebirth of McCarthyism, where the mere suspicion of illegal status (i.e. Latino) is enough to have a person detained. Heretics incite the fear of the Great Immigrant Invasion, where our laws and our very existence are being threatened into oblivion! Where the next step is to require them to wear some sort of identifying mark at all times. Where they can be harassed for any reason at any time, and segregated into ghettos. Where walking the streets while different is a crime.
We now live in a time when brown is the new black.
Besides, as John Wayne said: “Who are you calling alien, pilgrim?”
The Rachel Maddow Show recently did a great piece on FAIR, John Tanton, and how they all tie in with the Arizona anti-immigrant law. This the group Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) really works for:
As previously noted (and pointed out in the Maddow piece), FAIR was founded by known racist John Tanton. FAIR is an anti-immigration lobbying organization with a far right-wing agenda. The group counts among its major benefactors the Pioneer Fund, which has contributed $1.2 million to fund FAIR’s efforts.
The Pioneer Fund is a group founded in 1937. Of its main purposes upon its founding was to continue the work of Nazi eugenicists and their ongoing efforts to prove the genetic superiority of white people. At the time, the Pioneer Fund was primarily concerned with proving white genetic superiority over blacks. The original incorporation documents of the Pioneer Fund lists as one of its two primary purposes as “encouraging the propagation of those “descended predominantly from white persons who settled in the original thirteen states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States and/or from related stocks, or to classes of children, the majority of whom are deemed to be so descended.
“Its second purpose was to support academic research and the “dissemination of information, into the ‘problem of heredity and eugenics’” and “the problems of race betterment.”
FAIR has its tentacles all over the anti-immigration bill signed into law last week by Arizona governor Jan Brewer. The bill’s main sponsor, State Senator Russell Pearce, enlisted the help of attorney Kris Kobach to write the specific language of the bill. Kobach is the legal counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR.
“Nativist Attorney” Kobach has also been retained since October 2009 by notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to train the Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff’s Office in immigration matters to the tune of $300 per hour, plus a $1500 monthly retainer, plus expenses. That is, of course, at taxpayers’ expense–Kobach’s contract, according to Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times, is being paid out of Maricopa County’s RICO fund, the federal money allocated to the county to combat organized crime and racketeering activities.
Kobach is also a law professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law, and is a candidate for Secretary of State in Kansas. He failed at his previous attempt to win a public office as a candidate for Congress in Kansas’ 3rd District, a Republican stronghold, in 2004 because “in general, he was accused of taking money from a white supremacist organization, and the charge stuck.” (Kobach is, of course, a Republican.)
Russell Pearce–the man who enlisted Kobach’s help in writing the bill–himself has some dubious ties. In 2006 he sent an e-mail to supporters containing an article entitled “Who Rules America? The Alien Grip on our News and Entertainment Media Must Be Broken,” and a link to the article’s sponsor, the National Alliance, a white supremacist group. Pearce subsequently sent an apology e-mail, claiming that he had not read the article (which decried the “Jewish Holocaust tale” among other anti-Semitic and racist charges), and that he does not share the group’s neo-Nazi views.
More recently, however, Pearce has been photographed and attended rallies with neo-Nazi leader J.T. Ready:
That’s Ready on the left, Pearce on the right. That photo was taken at an anti-immigrant rally put on by the White Knights of America, a neo-Nazi, white supremacist hate group (and who presumably took their name from Mississippi’s White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan).
Pearce and Ready go back at least a few years. Pearce was an honored guest at a 2007 anti-immigration rally sponsored by Ready and his neo-Nazi pals at the Arizona State Capital (that’s Ready singing the praises of Pearce toward the beginning of the video.):
The forces behind the anti-immigrant bill signed into law last week can be traced directly back to FAIR. In addition to the sanctioning of racial profiling, the law provides that state agencies can be sued by any citizen for not doing enough to enforce the state’s immigration laws (as well as being too overzealous, opening state agencies to a myriad of civil rights lawsuits). And according to the research of Rachel Maddow’s crack staff, there is a provision written into the law that states that any individual or organization who brings such a suit and wins (and FAIR makes much of its money by such lawsuits) is entitled by law to recover court costs and attorney’s fees from the state.
These are the driving influences behind the anti-immigration efforts in Arizona and across the United States. These are the causes championed by Rep. Brian Bilbray. These are the people he associates with (remember, Bilbray was a paid lobbyist for FAIR prior to being elected to represent the CA 50th, and currently serves on the group’s Board of Advisors).
It is frightening to think that the Nazi movement is alive and well and so deeply rooted here in the U.S. It’s even more frightening to find that our elected officials–the people who are charged with protecting the rights of all citizens, white and non-white alike–are so closely tied to such extremist organizations.
UPDATE: On a slightly related note:
Since the anti-immigrant movement can be tied to the Tea Party movement (albeit somewhat loosely), this Newsweek article deals with the question of the year to date: “Are the Tea Partiers racist?”
A study conducted by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality concluded that Tea Partiers tend to be more “racially resentful:” “The data suggests that people who are Tea Party supporters have a higher probability”—25 percent, to be exact—”of being racially resentful than those who are not Tea Party supporters,” says Christopher Parker, who directed the study. “The Tea Party is not just about politics and size of government. The data suggests it may also be about race.”
Seems to be a trend these days…….
Thanks to Jeremy Gilbert, who contributed a ton of research to this post.
I’m embarrassed to be a San Diegan today. It’s pretty well known that San Diego Congressman Brian Bilbray is infamously anti-immigration, flaunting his ties to FAIR (more on that later) as a former lobbyist for that organization and a current board member. But yesterday, in an appearance on “Hardball” with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Bilbray showed his true colors.
In a discussion with Matthews and California Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez about the Arizona anti-immigration law just passed in the legislature, the trio tackled the issue of how exactly Arizona law enforcement officials are to identify whether someone appears to be in the country illegally or not. The pertinent question is “How do you know if someone is illegal or not just by their appearance?”
It’s pretty easy, according to Bilbray. Basically, anybody who looks Mexican is subject to questioning: “They will look at the kind of dress you wear. There’s different types of attire, there’s different types of—right down to the shoes, right down to the clothes, but mostly by behavior.”
Here’s the segment:
Got it. So if you look or dress in a manner other than “American” then you should be detained. What Bilbray is saying is perfectly acceptable, and what the Arizona law is promoting, is that racial profiling is now the preferred method to enforcing immigration laws. It’s now OK to choose a person off the street who looks like a foreigner and ask him or her for their papers. This means, of course, as Congresswoman Sanchez points out in the segment, that since she herself is Hispanic, then she will be required to carry around with her at all times her birth certificate and affidavits along with her driver’s license and other ID as proof that she is a U.S. citizen.
And how about this man?:
He sure looks like an illegal immigrant, no? Doesn’t he look Mexican to you? Just look at the way he’s dressed! Look at that tie! Would anybody from the U.S. wear that kind of tie?
That man, of course, is Congressman Raul Grijalva, the Democratic Representative from the Arizona 7th district. According to Bilbray, since this man looks like an immigrant, he should be pulled aside and questioned. Mind you, this is a colleague of Bilbray’s in the U.S. House of Representatives!
Here’s Congressman Grijalva earlier this week with Keith Olbermann:
As Mr. Grijalva says so succinctly, what the Arizona law does and what Mr. Bilbray advocates is to “codify into law racial profiling.” In a bold stance, the Congressman is advocating a boycott against his home state until this law is vetoed by the Republican governor of Arizona.
But Bilbray’s stance on immigration, and his essentially racist attitude towards immigrants in general and Mexian/Latino immigrants in particular (by the way, his mother is an Australian immigrant), should really come as no surprise. His positions can be traced directly to his affiliation with FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform), an organization that has been labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-immigration hate group.
Prior to his current stint in Congress, Bilbray was a lobbyist for FAIR. He also currently sits on the group’s Board of Advisors.
FAIR is the brainchild of known racist John Tanton, the founder of eight other such anti-immigration groups. Tanton and FAIR have received a great deal of funding from the Pioneer Fund, described by the New York Times‘ Bob Herbert as “an organization that spent decades pushing the notion that whites are genetically superior to blacks.” FAIR is also an organization that has expressed it’s approval for China’s forced abortion policy as a means to control its population (I’m sure that’ll go over well with the Pro Life Republican base).
Among the main goals of FAIR is to shut down the borders, limiting all immigration, not just illegal immigration, to a mere trickle. Which may sound fair and reasonable, but when you consider some of the statements made by the group’s leaders, a different picture emerges.
For example, John Tanton declared that unless America’s borders are sealed, the country will be overrun by people “defecating and creating garbage looking for jobs.” Or Tanton hero Garrett Hardin, a “committed eugenicist and for years a professor of human ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara” who wrote in his essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” that “Freedom to breed will bring ruin to all.” Or former Colorado Governor and FAIR Advisory Board member Richard Lamm, who said that “new cultures” in the U.S. “are diluting what we are and who we are.”
Add Bilbray’s assertion that you can tell an illegal immigrant from the kind of clothes and shoes they wear and we get a better idea of what kind of organization this is, and what Bilbray’s values really are.
What they are really saying is that racial profiling is a legitimate tool to root out the “undesirables” from our society. That anybody that looks “different” will now be a target for legalized harassment. That bigotry and racism are alive and well. Put these notions in the wrong heads and the results will be catastrophic.
We can all acknowledge that our immigration system is broken and is in desperate need of reform. But what we don’t need is to unleash a bunch of zealots onto the streets looking for an excuse to club someone over the head because they might be an illegal immigrant. We’re all aware of the problems that illegal immigration presents to our communities, but there’s a right way to deal with it and a wrong way. Mr. Bilbray’s way is the wrong way.
In a region that sits on the border, what we need is for cooler heads to prevail. Instead of encouraging racist stereotypes and the raising of tensions in an already volatile environment to a boiling point, we need a representative in Congress who will work to find real, reasonable, and EFFECTIVE long term solutions to America’s immigration problems. Rounding people up at random and demanding to see their papers, corralling them under threat of deportation and possible bodily harm if they don’t carry their life’s history with them at all times doesn’t sound like the American way to me. It sounds like a much more shameful time in human history not all that long ago halfway around the world.
When is it acceptable for a sitting San Diego area congressman to interfere with the business operations of a San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area hotel? Apparently when the owner of said hotel pays him to do so. Representative Brian Bilbray (CA 50th) has embroiled himself directly into the labor dispute between the Emeryville Woodfin Suites hotel and its staff.
The dispute began in 2006 when hotel employees (mostly cleaning staff) charged that the hotel had failed to pay back wages owed to them in defiance of a 2005 Emeryville city ordinance mandating a living wage for all employees. The Emeryville City Council investigated the claim, and in 2007 determined that Woodfin owed its employees $200,000 in back wages, and ordered them to pay up. Woodfin refused.
Instead, the hotel challenged the ordinance–Measure C–in court, where in 2008, the ordinance was upheld, and once again, Woodfin was ordered to pay up. Woodfin challenged the City Council again. Again, the Council investigated and once more rejected the hotel’s claims. Woodfin was ordered to pay the back wages owed. Woodfin refused, saying that they disagreed with the City Council’s decision.
In December, 2009, Superior Court Judge Stephen Brick once again rejected Woodfin’s claims, and ordered the hotel to pay its workers the $200,000 owed. Woodfin’s response? They filed a claim demanding that the City of Emeryville owed them $500,000 in legal fees. That’s right! Woodfin defiantly disobeyed a court validated city ordinance—repeatedly—and they now claim that the city owes THEM money!
So where does Mr. Bilbray fit into this? Presumably it all started with a phone call. Sam Hardage is the owner of the Woodfin Suites chain, and a Rancho Santa Fe resident (within the constituency of Brian Bilbray’s district). Mr. Hardage was having an employee problem at his Emeryville property, and he needed some help to deal with it. He was looking for a way to get out of paying the City Council and court mandated back wages. He knew that many of the complaining staff were likely to be immigrants, some of them possibly in the country illegally.
Mr. Hardage needed a way to send a message, to quell the employee uprising that had occurred at his hotel. So in 2006, shortly after the initial charges were filed against Woodfin, hotel management notified several employees that their Social Security numbers did not match the names on record with the Social Security Administration. Shortly thereafter, several employees received “no match” letters from the SSA.
Normally a “no match” letter is not grounds for termination. The SSA simply initially sends them out to notify the individual that there is a problem with their records, possibly a typographical error, and that steps should be taken to correct the problem. It is not usually by itself grounds for an investigation into one’s immigration status, and it is not typical for employees who receive “no match” letters to be fired. In fact, it is SSA policy that employees receiving letters NOT be fired. And according to the North County Times, the hotel had received “no match” letters for these employees every year dating back for several years, which were met with complete indifference.
Yet this time, after the living wage complaints were filed, and shortly after receiving notification from the SSA, 12 Emeryville Woodfin Suites workers were fired.
It is unusual and highly irregular that a company encourages an investigation into its own employees, but this is precisely what Mr. Hardage wanted. He placed a call to his notoriously anti-immigration congressman, Brian Bilbray, for his help. Mr. Bilbray, in turn, flexed his political muscle with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security to trigger an investigation into the immigration status of the Emeryville Woodfin Suites employees.
Mr. Hardage, it should be noted, is the former Chair of the San Diego County Republican Party, and a major contributor to Mr. Bilbray’s campaign, having directly contributed $6,400 to Bilbray’s campaign from 2006 to 2007.
So what exactly is Brian Bilbray’s motivation to involve himself in the Woodfin Suites hotel dispute? What has prompted him to engage in a labor dispute 450 miles away from the district he represents? Surely if Mr. Bilbray was looking for an immigration issue to interject in, he could easily find it in his own district—a district whose southern boundary is less than 40 miles from California’s border with Mexico.
By meddling directly into the Woodfin Suites employment dispute, Mr. Bilbray is interfering with local politics hundreds of miles from his own district. And despite his claims to the contrary, directly interfering in a labor dispute is exactly what he has done. He is directly impeding the ability of the City of Emeryville to enforce its own ordinances, which flies directly in the face of conventional Republicanism—after all, one of the primary Republican mantras is to keep the federal government out of local politics……that state and local governments have the right of self determination.
What Mr. Bilbray has done is to place the private business interests of Sam Hardage above the collective interests of the voters of Emeryville (who voted Measure C into law). It is disturbing that the political influence of Mr. Bilbray’s office can be bought by the bank account of Mr. Hardage. This is the kind of Government-On-Demand that the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns in the Citizen’s United case has reinforced. It guarantees that workers’ rights are usurped by corporate interests.
If this were truly about illegal immigration, then Mr. Bilbray would have instructed ICE to conduct a much broader investigation instead of the specifically targeted attack on one particular hotel’s workforce. If illegal immigration is the real concern, then why not investigate the immigration status of ALL hotel employees within the City of Emeryville? Surely the Woodfin Suites is not the only business in Emeryville whose employees received “no match” letters. Yet Bilbray’s directive was specific to just this one.
It seems that if this were truly an immigration issue, and Mr. Hardage was concerned about incurring large fines for employing illegal immigrants, then he might have contacted (or had his local management contact) the representative of the district where Emeryville resides, California’s 9th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Barbara Lee.
So why has Mr. Bilbray taken such an interest in the business dealings of a company operating in a far away Congressional District? The facts of the case and the actions of both Mr. Hardage and Mr. Bilbray make it highly unlikely that immigration was the primary concern. Mr. Hardage needed a way to intimidate his employees into submission, and what better way than through an immigration raid. Mr. Bilbray was all too happy to assist one of his biggest donors. After all, an “immigration investigation” is the perfect guise; it allows him to remain in the good graces of one of his benefactors, while at the same time appearing powerful and effective in fighting the great threat posed by hotel cleaning ladies potentially in the country illegally.
To date, none of the fired employees, none of the individuals who received a “no match” letter from the Social Security Administration, have been deported.
The influence Sam Hardage’s money has been able to purchase from Brian Bilbray should raise alarms to his constituents. Who, exactly, is he working for? Whose interests does he represent? Does he work for ALL of the people of the 50th District, or just the Sam Hardage’s of the world? Mr. Bilbray has been caught red handed interfering in a labor dispute well outside of his jurisdiction. To assert otherwise would be purely fiction. He has plainly used the resources of the federal government in an attempt to advance the private business interests of a campaign contributor.
Which raises another question: What is Mr. Bilbray getting out of it?
For more information about the Woodfin Suites labor dispute: