News Interview: Keller Fights The Good Fight

Immigration Policy An Ethical Lapse

August March
8 min read
Tim Keller
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (courtesy
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I decided to write out this piece on Tuesday morning—though I spoke to our city’s mayor on Friday afternoon, in the midst of a heat wave that touched 100 degrees—when it was cool, when the madness of what is occuring in our country seemed faraway, buoyed temporarily out of view by a waxing summer moon and good sleep.

But the problems persisted. Although President Trump signed an executive order last Wednesday, ostensibly ending the cruel and inhumane practice of separating children from undocumented immigrants at our southern border, little has been done—by those with real agency in the situation, the administration—to reunite literally thousands of children with their parents.

Across the nation and here in Albuquerque though, there have been plenty of protests, gatherings and discussions about what can be done to resume a productive, proactive and even progressive course away from the zero-tolerance policies initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and towards a better borderland.

Saturday was another scorcher. I traveled to the National Hispanic Cultural Center on another very hot and vexing day to get more of an idea of how the city, state and its citizens were working through this ordeal. The meeting of minds and voices at the center was large and united by concern, but also by a pledge—burning through the intense heat of the day, if that is possible—to work together to end our nation’s seeming escalation toward authoritarianism and an unwanted future where political efficiency is upheld as a value over common decency. The folks at the rally, from Senator Martin Heinrich to the Archbishop of Santa Fe, our Democratic candidate for governor, the state Attorney General and our mayor, Tim Keller, all spoke passionately about two things.

Of course one of the things all these fine folks discoursed on were about the essence of the issue: the criminalization and degradation of the immigrant community for political purposes, for any reason whatsoever, must be ended, must be rectified, they said.

The speakers also reminded attendees that their right to vote—and the exercise of that right in November, were key to setting things right in our nation. This second fact brings me back, full circle, to my interview with Mayor Tim Keller, a man Burqueños elected to bring a measure of progress to our desert-detailed but enchanted corner of the earth.

It was a busy day for Keller and for your reporter. We spoke for about 10 minutes about the weather, city and most importantly about the situation at the border, in Tornillo, Texas, a place where, in tents and in cages, children of immigrants continue to be held captive by the Trump administration.

Weekly Alibi: It’s just one of those days, isn’t it?

Tim Keller: Yeah, I know it’s a hundred degrees out, it’s like the dog days of summer.

Here’s to sunny days in Albuquerque; I hope we get some rain again, soon. That would be awesome!

Yeah! Hey what else do you want to talk about?

I really want to talk about your trip to Tornillo. I’d like to get your perspective; I’d like to get your feelings on the events that are shaking our democracy.

Well, here are a couple of thoughts. The whole thing that is happening down there feels so un-American. It starts from the fact that so few people are being let in—authorities can’t get into the facility—means there’s no transparency or disclosure about what they are doing. You know, after the executive order that may or may not be changing anything, all the way down to the fact that people [the administration] are hiding behind the notion that the system is broken … I’m not being very precise, but it goes like this: People learn from seeing what’s happening down there and they say we need to fix the immigration system. And we do need to fix the immigration system.

But what is happening down there is something entirely different, entirely much more inhumane and dehumanizing. I think that is why this [situation] is so infuriating to people, whether you are a parent or an elected official. In America we do not pull children from their mother’s arms. That’s wrong. It doesn’t matter what the policy is. We were not doing that before. The version of the story that says, “this has been happening for 10 years” is completely wrong. What’s surprising to me is frankly, how much the mainstream media and mainstream politicians continue to pivot to the structural problems [with immigration policy in the US].

That’s not why we were down there. We were trying to highlight the zero-tolerance policy, pointing out how wrong and un-American it is.

You mentioned that there was no transparency. So was the group of mayors you traveled with even allowed access to these facilities? Were you shut down at the gates?

Yes, we were [shut down]. There was no access. We were with folks from El Paso, including the mayor of El Paso. It’s been interesting, his take on it focused on how the entire discussion of the situation completely excluded everyone except the White House. So the lack of information coming out leads to a unanimous conclusion. The mayors were on the receiving end. We were literally reporting from in front of a closed gate in front of the facility, while some of these people were being sent to other cities. Basically, they are spreading these kids out all over the country.

So are they flying these immigrant children to faraway places, like New York, areas that are inaccessible to their parents, even though there might be vague plans for reconciliation, down the line?

Yes. Exactly. So that was sort of the universal conclusion from all of the mayors [who participated in the visit to Tornillo], but it makes a point about being mayors: Over the past 10 years, more and more cities have had to fix what the federal government messes up. I think, even here in Albuquerque, the behavioral health problem for example, how a program is dismantled and now the city has to deal with some of the folks with behavioral health issues. But I still think it’s important that the mayors went down there and said, “we’re all in this together and we are tired of cleaning up and fixing [the federal government’s] lapses.” The problem is just getting worse in this case.

Besides being a bureaucratic nightmare and something that the federal government has fostered over the years, isn’t the zero-tolerance policy also an ethical breach, too?

Yes and I believe that this is the other thing that becomes clear. The need to educate the public is important because a lot of folks still see this as one of many general issues surrounding the border. Again, that is very different from recent policies that provide for permanent or indefinite detention of families or kids in cages. These are new issues. There may be some who say, “well these people chose to do that,” well those choices are made under duress. As a result we are traumatizing individuals. Yesterday, the president admitted they don’t have enough room to house everyone [immigrant family] involved. It was very poorly thought out. There are children involved in all of this.

How did the Trump administration think they could get away with such an egregious violation?

I hope that Congress shows some more fortitude in the matter. The president is sort of using children as pawns to get immigration reform. That is ethically deplorable. Also, Congress can fix this. It wouldn’t be the first time in history where they had to rally two-thirds of the votes to do something. I am kinda a little tired of hearing the talk and the rhetoric from D.C. Now is the time for them to take action. Again, this is vastly different than what our country has been doing [with immigrants], even a couple of months ago. No matter how you feel about the general issue, this specific problem, this specific program needs to stop. Once citizens learn about that, they tend to agree.

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