July 15, 2013

Be Sure Your Elected Officials Hear From You On Issues That Matter

Immigration Reform Leaders Arrested 8
Immigration Reform Leaders Arrested 8 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I heard a portion of an interview with a Republican congressman from Alabama on NPR (it might have been Mississippi Public Broadcasting instead, as I joined it in progress) that was an excellent reminder of why we need to let our elected officials hear from us on issues we find important. This particular interview focused on immigration and how adamantly opposed this member of Congress was to any sort of comprehensive immigration reform. But this is not why I am posting - this post is not about immigration.

The interviewer asked the congressman about whether Republicans were worried about losing Latino votes if the party continued to oppose immigration reform. The congressman replied that he was not at all worried about this, adding that he will oppose any sort of reform until President Obama enforces existing immigration laws and those persons who have broken the law by entering the country illegally should be punished rather than being granted any sort of amnesty. While he did not use these words, it sounded as if he would almost certainly support mass deportation of some sort. The interviewer asked whether the congressman didn't think that people wanted a path to citizenship. The congressman's reply was fascinating and brings me to the reason for writing this post.

The congressman repeated several times during the interview that this is not what he has heard from his constituents. The interviewer seemed caught off guard for a moment and calmly explained that he was curious why the congressman thought that Latinos would not be interested in having a path to citizenship. Because that is what I have heard from them, insisted the congressman. Again, the congressman claimed that his Latino constituents wanted strict law enforcement and not reform, as did his all of his constituents, regardless of race or ethnicity.

What are we to make of this? Perhaps the congressman is lying. It certainly wouldn't be the first time an elected official has willfully distorted information to make himself or herself appear to be acting in concert with the will of the people he or she is supposed to represent. But an alternative explanation may be that those who want immigration reform have not been contacting his office to express themselves. Maybe they do not think he would be sympathetic to their point of view. I have certainly struggled with this from time-to-time as I decide whether to contact one of the Christian extremists who was elected to represent me. But in the end, it usually comes down to my realization that I cannot possibly blame them for failing to do something people like me have never asked them to do.

If you have an elected official who consistently votes against your interests, be sure they know you are out there and that you expect representation too. And if you are fortunate enough to have an elected official who supports your interests, be sure to let them know you appreciate them. We often forget to do that, but it is important. We are not always going to get what we want, but we should at least seek to take away the claim that all constituents agree with whatever the elected official wants to do.

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