U.S. Immigration Enforcement Finally Preaches What it Practices

Julie Myers, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, apparently thinks that blackface is “original.”

Myers, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ran into trouble earlier this month after she and two other agency managers gave the “most original” costume award to a white employee who came to the agency’s Halloween party dressed as an escaped prisoner with dreadlocks and darkened skin.

The incident drew complaints of racial insensitivity and an apology from Myers. It also cast doubt on whether she’ll get a confirmation vote before the end of the year, when her original appointment expires.

It would be a stunning collapse for Myers, 38, a native of Shawnee, Kan., who worked hard over the past two years to convince skeptical lawmakers that someone with little immigration experience was up to the task of running the government’s second largest investigative force.

With just a few more weeks to go before the end of the session, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has not scheduled a vote on Myers. Spokesman Jim Manley said this week that Reid has “serious concerns” with the nomination and is consulting with other lawmakers about how to proceed.

Myers met resistance in 2005, the first time President Bush tried to appoint her to the Homeland Security Department post, after Democrats and Republicans said she had weak credentials for the high-profile job. To avoid a fight, Bush installed her during a Senate recess and her position expires at year’s end unless the Senate votes to confirm her.

There are so many things outrageously wrong with this situation that I hardly know where to begin. First, there’s the fact that the employee was dressed in blackface. This, all on its own, is wholly unacceptable on every level. But apparently believing that blackface was not “funny” or offensive enough and needed a little “kick,” the employee also decided to make his “black” character a prisoner. Get it? ‘Cause black men are criminals! Hahahaha —

Um, no.

But it gets even worse. The employee wore dreadlocks, too. Ignorant white people seem to very regularly conflate “black man with dreadlocks” with “Jamaican man.” Dreadlocks have virtually become a kind of shorthand. They sell dreadlock wigs for Halloween with the word “Jamaican” on the package. This representation is false, stereotypical and offensive in its own right, but we can’t deny its existence. So, he was not only an employee dressed in a prisoner’s outfit in blackface. He was almost certainly an employee dressed as an immigrant in a prisoner’s outfit while in blackface.

At a party for the Department of Homeland Security. And was given a most original costume award by the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

How, exactly, could this possibly be considered okay? By anyone? Ever?

Let’s ask Joe Lieberman:

Some key lawmakers have rallied to her defense, including Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who chairs the Senate Homeland Security committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the panel’s top Republican.

“Senator Lieberman regrets her lapse in judgment regarding the Halloween incident,” spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said. “He is inclined to support her nomination, given the committee’s review of her entire record, the fact that the union representing 7000 ICE employees supports her and her year’s experience in office.”

Yeah, we get it Joe. You’re a Republican Independent, now, and racism kind of goes along with the role of kissing George W. Bush’s ass. It’s pretty damn clear already, so a bit of subtlety wouldn’t do you any harm.

As for Myers’ apologies, you’d better bet that not a single one involves her saying “I’m sorry for being racist.” Of course, she’s just sorry that her racism ended up in the news. She also has the worst excuse for her actions that I can possibly imagine.

Myers has apologized repeatedly for the costume incident, saying she was “shocked and horrified” to learn the employee had altered his skin color and conceding “it was inappropriate for me to recognize any individual wearing an escaped prisoner costume.”

“She took very direct steps prior to address what she felt was a bad judgment call, bad decision and to take responsibility for what was an offensive costume worn by an employee,” Nantel said.

No, seriously? That’s the best she’s going to do? Because really, I wasn’t aware that they had any award-winning makeup artists employed at the Department of Homeland Security.

And quite honestly, I’m not sure which I find to be more offensive: the idea that the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement thinks that blackface is funny, acceptable and original, or the idea that the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement can’t tell the difference between an actual person of color and a white man in a Halloween costume.

All I can say is that yeah, we know that the Department of Homeland Security is racist. Anyone who pays attention to U.S. policy can see that. And we know that the Bush Administration is racist. We also probably can’t expect for him to appoint anyone to the position who isn’t going to have racially offensive ideas.

But are we really at a point where we’re so beaten down and so apathetic to racism that we can’t expect better than a head of immigration enforcement who gives out awards, however meaningless, for overt expressions of racial prejudice? Or are we just grateful that the employee didn’t dress up like a “Muslim terrorist” or a “Mexican drug lord?” I know that for some reason many of my fellow white people think that it’s okay to be racist on Halloween, but . . . it’s not. Never has been, folks, never will be, and I’d like to think that our public officials at least know this much.

Though, I’m sure, we’re going to see many, many white people defending it. [Cue O’Rielly and Limbaugh . . .]

In my opinion, this woman doesn’t even deserve to be granted a vote by the Dems, let alone a confirmation. But what are the chances of that?

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of Myers’ harshest critics even before the costume episode, placed a hold on the nomination while lawmakers sought more details. While McCaskill does not support Myers, she is willing to allow an up or down vote in the full Senate.

“I can forgive anyone who apologizes for a wrong deed,” said McCaskill. “But it doesn’t change the fact that the incident showed a woeful lack of judgment.”

Okay, Senator. You can personally forgive anyone you want (though I’m not sure that white people are the ones who are in the position to grant forgiveness). But it seems to me that forgiving and rewarding are two starkly different things.


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3 comments for “U.S. Immigration Enforcement Finally Preaches What it Practices

  1. exholt
    November 18, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Clearly acceptance of such racist imagery and symbolism among supposed “professionals” is one reason why hanging nooses was considered a “prank” by a certain Louisiana DA and why nooses and other racist symbols have been placed in many different venues recently.

    And some Americans wonder why immigrants, especially those from non-Western countries don’t have much trust in the US immigration bureau and its courts.

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