I meet the Berks County Tea Party Patriots

I received an invitation to speak about illegal immigration to a gathering of the Berks County Patriots and other Tea Party groups in Leesport, Pennsylvania. I often receive invitations to speak and, if I am able to do so, I like to accept in the belief that I might have some useful information and perspectives to share, and because I like to meet new people and often learn new things from new audiences.

So last Saturday morning I headed out to Leesport, which is north of Reading, not quite knowing what to expect. I arrived at the Leesport Farmers Market, just a little after the noon start of the scheduled 4-hour forum on immigration. Upon arrival I was surprised by the size of the crowd. I was later told that they put out 800 folding chairs, most of which were occupied, and there was a crowd standing in back of and along the sides of the seating. This was a much bigger audience than I am used to addressing!

The first scheduled keynoter was supposed to be newly-elected Congressman Lou Barletta, the former mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, made famous by his efforts to exclude illegal immigrants from that town. The Congressman was unable to appear because the U.S. House of Representatives was concluding an all-night session to adopt a cost cutting budget for 2012.

But the second scheduled keynoter was State Representative Daryl Metcalfe from Butler County who is now the Chairman of the House State Government Committee. Chairman Metcalfe spoke and answered questions about his efforts to enact for Pennsylvania laws dealing with illegal immigration comparable to those enacted in Arizona.

For my panel I was thinking I would talk about how proponents of immigration amnesty characterize the immigration debate as between an enlightened elite wanting to treat all human beings equally, and a bigoted mob that hates immigrants and is ignorant of their own immigrant ancestors. Instead, I was going to suggest, we should identify the central question in the immigration debate as being whether we should accept as immigrants all who want to come here from other countries in search of a better life, or instead, whether we want to enforce a numerical limit each year on how many immigrants we are willing to accept. Most Americans, I am confident, do not favor unlimited immigration. Given the binary choice of no limits or enforced limits, most Americans clearly favor enforcing limits on immigration.

But my panel turned out to be a free-wheeling discussion of the immigration issue without formal presentations led by former Berks County state representative and 2009 candidate for Governor Sam Rohrer. My fellow panelists included Peter Gadiel, head of the 9/11 Families for a Secure America Foundation, who lost a son in the 9/11 attack on New York City, and who denounces the continuing failure to enforce immigration laws which allowed the 9/11 terrorists into the U.S.

County Commissioner Mark Scott and County Sheriff Eric Weaknecht described the negative impact of illegal immigration on Berks County and the efforts of local government to respond. And California activist Rick Oltman described the impact of illegal immigration in that state as the harbinger of what will happen throughout the nation if illegal immigration is allowed to continue.

During the panel I observed many in the audience taking notes. I assumed they were journalists. But when I asked them who they were writing for, they all said they were just taking notes for their own benefit. Many in the audience shared with me their own stories of being adversely impacted by illegal immigrants.

I know I have some differences with the Tea Party movement. But I also have points of agreement. One is the need to reduce government spending at every level to eliminate deficits which threaten the viability of government. A second point of agreement is that unless we want unlimited numbers of immigrants coming to America, we are going to have to do a better job of enforcing the immigration laws enacted by Congress and signed by the President.

The Tea Party does not have a high profile in southeastern Pennsylvania. But it’s a force to be reckoned with in other parts of the state. What other group can assemble hundreds of citizens for four hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon to discuss immigration? I was impressed.

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