Overpasses for America anti-immigration rally experience

Republican Chairwoman and rally organizer Mary Ann Benitez with EAAC Director. Keystone United/Keystone Skinheads founder and Republican Committeeman Steve Smith - Photo: whiteadvocate.org
Republican Chairwoman and rally organizer Mary Ann Benitez with EAAC Director. Keystone United/Keystone Skinheads founder and Republican Committeeman Steve Smith – Photo: whiteadvocate.org

Today, I attended a rally dubbed Overpasses for America to challenge beliefs of anti-immigration protesters. I offer my recap of the event.

Earlier this year, members of a local group — the European American Action Coalition (EAAC) an “organization that advocates on behalf of white Americans” — participated in a rally they called “Anti-illegal Alien Invasion Rally” organized by Mary Ann Benitez (Lackawanna County Republican Committee Chairwomen for the 112th district) and attended by Steve Smith (Luzerne County Republican Committee member, director of the EAAC, and co-founder/former member of Keystone United/Keystone State Skinheads which features recent pictures of Smith on its website along with pictures advocating for violence/containing violent imagery reading ‘Kill your local drug dealer,’ ‘Smash the reds‘ and ‘Good night left side‘).

Smith writes at EAAC’s website whiteadvocate.org where he admitted to pleading guilty to simple assault and ethnic intimidation which resulted in a 2003 arrest, defended racial profiling, written about America becoming a “third world country” if an amnesty law for immigrants is enacted, “the problem of violent crime within the black community” (a focus of many posts), “the problems that multiculturalism tends to bring,” an “anti-white agenda,” diversity “turn[ing] once prosperous and safe cities into crime-ridden cesspools,” the prediction of whites being a minority in the United States “catastrophic to our country and well-being,” and stated “diversity is not a strength.”

More recently, on October 18, members of EAAC including Steve Smith, members of the American Freedom Party (known for their “Diversity = White Genocide” banners) attended another rally — again organized by Mary Ann Benitez — which I had approached with intentions to have conversation and challenge anti-immigration arguments.

Photo of overpass ralliers
Photo of overpass ralliers

Personally, I don’t identify as a liberal, Democrat, or progressive and am not a supporter of President Obama (much to the surprise of one rally attendee who raised his voice when speaking with me saying something along the lines of ‘You voted for Obama twice and would vote for him again if you had the chance!’), but do support an easing of immigration laws so that American citizenship could be more easily attained and a providing of amnesty for immigrants who currently live in the United States…and so I found myself at odds with this rally and many of its attendees.

Rather than villifying immigrants and immigration, a more humanistic approach can be taken by which people are integrated into a community and afforded legal protection and rights to do so.

Approaching the rally held on a Lackawanna County overpass, I saw signs and banners reading ‘Impeach Obama,’ ‘Obama lies,’ ‘No amnesty,’ ‘Secure our borders,’ ‘Save America,’ and ‘Save the USA.’ Following distribution of my business card when I was greeted by a rally attendee (which was accompanied by mutterings of ‘he’s that atheist’ or something to that effect and what seemed to be a ridicule of church/state separation which later was followed with ‘the constitution says nothing about separation of church and state), I spoke with several individuals.

Below, I shall outline the common assertions and arguments I heard and offer my responses.

Children of illegal immigrants aren’t citizens – they are just de-facto citizens and it shouldn’t be that way/people are breaking the law by entering into the country illegally.

According to United States law, individuals born in the United States are United States citizens regardless of parents’ citizenship status. There is no continuum within the construct of citizenship; either someone is a citizen or is not a citizen. If there is a problem with the fact that people enter the country illegally (and no problem with people entering the country legally), why not make the entering process easier and allow more people to be citizens and/or significantly reduce laws so that people are not here illegally?

Some will want to enter the United States for very good reasons including but not limited to events occurring in one’s home country including political persecution, lack of employment opportunities, a subpar standard of living, a want to flee threats of violence and pursue refuge, and a desire to ‘start a new life’ by moving to a new country. Many immigrants want to be law-abiding citizens who benefit the United States but are unable to do so under current policies.

Violent imagery on Keystone United's tumblr page - http://keystoneunited.tumblr.com/page/5
Violent imagery on Keystone United’s tumblr page – http://keystoneunited.tumblr.com/page/5

Illegal immigrants harm America by ruining our way of life – bringing diseases into public schools through unvaccinated children, committing crimes, dealing drugs…

To the best of my knowledge, it is the case that children (regardless of parents’ citizenship status) must be vaccinated in order to enter the public school system – so much so that anti-vaccination groups oppose laws which require children to be vaccinated in order to be accepted into public schools.

Indeed, as is the case throughout populations, regardless of citizenship status, crime and drug dealing occurs; the potential to commit crimes, too, exists within humans. Why particularly focus on [potential] crimes committed by immigrants at the exclusion of crimes committed by United States citizens? If individuals are violent — regardless of citizenship status — there shall be legal consequences when law officials justly intervene.

America should deal with its problems first and thus close the borders completely – allowing no new citizens.

This line of reasoning is question-begging; in an effort to argue that immigration is a problem/immigration should be banned, it is assumed that immigration is a problem (and presumably that this should be dealt with first). Might also problems in America be reduced, anyway, due to contributions from immigrants…? It is possible to both deal with problems and allow new citizens. New citizens, by the way, are being born each day yet I see no opposition to childbirth in any and all circumstances at this rally. Why a focus on immigration and not childbirth? After all, when a child is born a new citizen exists amidst a country with problems.

President Obama is to blame for current problems of [illegal] immigration.

Two million deportations during President Obama’s administration don’t fit well with this claim.

At the end of the day, there wasn’t only disagreement with Democratic politics and encouragement for immigration laws to be strengthened, but a great deal of fearmongering and negative attitudes about immigrants on display at this rally. Rather than my alternative to ease immigration laws so that illegal immigration would not be a problem (my response to the tautological ‘illegal immigration is illegal’ refrain), rally attendees I spoke with advocated for border closure and spoke negatively about immigrants – talking about all of the negatives they believe which result from illegal immigration while largely neglecting the positives.

I hope that rally attendees will reconsider their views about immigration — instead advocating for an easing of immigration laws so that more people may become legal citizens/illegal immigration would not be a problem and jettisoning the beliefs that immigrants pose a particular danger to the ‘American way of life’ — and comment on my piece. I’d be happy to engage more with rally attendees…this time not on an overpass sidewalk in the pouring rain (which wasn’t a good situation for audio/video recording) with vehicles passing.

As always, leave your comments below.

Update: There have been several attendees from the rally weighing in below. Feel free to read those comments.