Immigration and loyalty and Rashida Tlaib

Immigration and loyalty and Rashida Tlaib August 13, 2018

Here’s an AP report in the Sunday Chicago Tribune:  “Palestinian-American candidate is source of West Bank pride.”  The article features Rashida Tlaib, a progressive candidate who just won an open primary in Detroit.

The story would be an interesting one without the immigration angle, as Tlaib, a 42 year old former state representative generated excitement and cash (over one million in donations, far outraising her five opponents) to defeat the favored, and establishment/union-endorsed Brenda Jones, Detroit city council president, in the primary to replace former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. in the 13th Congressional District, with 33.2% of the vote vs. 29.2% for Jones.  One quirk of the race as that Conyers had resigned so a simultaneous election was being held to determine his replacement for the remainder of the term, and this one, Jones won, 37.5 percent to 35.6 percent, leaving her in the unpleasant circumstance of leaving her current post for a meaningless Congressional partial term.  (Why did this happen?  I can only guess that some of the other 4 candidates were not on both ballots.)  (See the Detroit News for more reporting.)

Why did Tlaib win over Jones?  Was this the equivalent of the Ocasio upset, the primarying of a moderate by an upstart far-leftist?  Looking at the candidates’ websites, Tlaib was not noticeably more radical that Jones — both supported the by-now usual platform of free college, $15 minimum wage, single-payer healthcare provision, and the like.  Presumably Tlaib had the edge (and remember, it was a slim edge, and not even close to the majority) because of greater voter enthusiasm for a young, fresh face; perhaps it was because her experience was with the legislature, and Jone’s city council background was a negative rather than a plus.  Was it her heckling of Trump in 2016?  Commenters at the Detroit News say that it was because the vote still ends up on racial lines, and the Black vote was split among multiple candidates.  Perhaps it was simply that enthusiasm both in- and out-of-district, and out of state, for a Muslim, and the money she raised as a result, that gave her the win.  Or perhaps she’s just the better candidate, smarter and more effective at what she does.

But that’s not what drew my attention.  Rather, it’s the emphasis the AP article places on her Palestinian-ness.  While the candidate herself on her website says nothing other than, in a brief biography, that she is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and a Huffington Post profile simply says that she wants to “humanize” Palestinians, her extended family in the West Bank has much higher hopes, according to the AP article.

“It’s a great honor for this small town. It’s a great honor for the Palestinian people to have Rashida in the Congress,” said Mohammed Tlaib, the village’s former mayor and a distant relative. “For sure she will serve Palestine, for sure she will serve the interests of her nation. She is deeply rooted here.” . . .

While celebrating her win, Tlaib was embraced early Wednesday morning by her mother, Fatima, who briefly wrapped a Palestinian flag around Tlaib’s shoulders. “My mom is really, genuinely excited,” Tlaib said of her victory. . . .

Mohammed Tlaib said some 50 people from the small village have immigrated to the U.S. and now have children in schools and universities in America.

“They are Americans, like other Americans, and have deep roots here. So we expect them to serve their occupied and embattled country there,” he said. . . .

Rashida Tlaib’s uncle Bassam, 54, said the family always believed she had a bright future and has high hopes for her career in Washington.

“She told the family that she wants to run for election to defend human rights, women rights, immigrant rights and the Palestinian rights,” he said.

So what do you make of this?  Is this a matter of an AP reporter looking for a new angle?  Would Rashida herself in a private moment say, “yes, my extended family expects me to somehow solve everything for them, but I am an American and a Michigander and a Detroiter and these are my people, and my life’s work is to help them”?  Or is Mohammed right that she will serve the interests of the Palestinians, that that is “her nation” and that she’s just one of many immigrants whose primary objective is to serve the people of their native country?

Of course, one might say, “well, duh, why can’t she do both?” and that is a fair point, insofar as she’ll be called on to cast votes on all manner of legislation and voting one way or another on a piece of foreign policy legislation won’t prevent her from casting votes on other legislation.  But if she’s as determined to Make A Difference as she claims to be, she’ll need some areas of focus, some ways in which she immerses herself in issues.  From her website, her main cause is an initiative she calls the Justice For All Civil Rights Act, which would be wide-ranging in its scope, for instance, eliminating the ability of insurance companies to charge higher premiums in high-crime areas, prohibiting water and utility shut-offs, and allowing disparate impact discrimination lawsuits.

But in any case, would it be quite OK, or rather unsettling, to have a representative in Congress if her loyalty was indeed to Palestine, if her votes cast, if her attention and her time were devoted to this cause, rather than the needs of her constituents?  And would the answer be any different if she represented a district primarily populated by people with that same dual loyalty, or if that second nationality is one with large numbers of residents in the United States as a whole?  Or, to take an alternate example, is more or less right or wrong for someone of Mexican ancestry to advocate for amnesty and greater ability for Mexicans to immigrate, or better guest-worker arrangements or ease of remittance-sending, in order to advantage Mexicans, than for someone to do so out of a general sense of globalism?


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