With respect to the national debate regarding illegal immigration, I have listened to people on both sides of the issue argue passionately for their views. But I never heard anyone proudly declare herself to be "pro illegal immigration" before.
Well, that is until this past weekend.
During her appearance as a panelist on the episode of WMAR's Square Off which aired September 26, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - former lieutenant governor, former gubernatorial nominee, and eldest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy - proudly and enthusiastically declared her support for illegal immigration.
Don't take my word for it. Read the transcript below, or watch the segment yourself (the exchange in question appears just before the first commercial break).
Bob Scherr (BS): I’m against illegal immigration.
Hassan Murphy (HM): Everyone is against illegal immigration.
Richard Sher (RS): Kathleen is not. Why?
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (KKT): I think immigrants have made this country strong.
BS: Yeah, legal immigrants.
KKT: I think illegal ones and legal ones have made our country strong. The way that you – the way that we have our immigration policy now is we, you know, allow the educated to come in but not the uneducated. That’s basically how – so that people who are working in the farm – the farm workers, people who are working in the hotels are often not legal.
BS: I’m a little...
KKT: Wait a minute…let me finish this, because it’s really…wrong. And, if you think about how our country is going to be strong, it’s going to get young people, immigrants, to come in and work and be able to contribute and my great grandparents -
BS: Am I hearing correctly that you have no problem with illegal immigration at all?
KKT: I certainly don’t
RS: (To Scher) Why does that stun you?
KKT: Why would it? I’m really proud of my family, and that distin…
BS: That position is to the left of any position I have ever heard. At least other people are saying, “Let’s grant amnesty.” You’re not – you’re one step to the left of that. You’re saying, “Why bother to grant amnesty? Just let all the illegals come in.”
KKT: I actually think that, if you look at a country, a country does well, just as people do well, when they are young. You have energy. You want to work hard. As you get older, you lose that energy. And young immigrants coming in will give us the new energy we need in this country…”
At that point, host Richard Sher interrupted Mrs. Townsend to take a commercial break. But I think you get the point.
Mrs. Townsend is, by all accounts, an intellectual and thoughtful woman with a penchant for making gaffes. But I am not sure this remark can be explained away as simply another "Hispanish"- type moment on the part of a well-documented political stumblebum.
Gaffes are committed by politicians still competing in the political arena. Mrs. Townsend, now a lecturer at Georgetown University, is a private citizen simply telling us what she believes.
Her "I loved my grandparents so let's open up the borders" rationale raises more questions than it answers. What would this mean for traditional notions of citizenship? Would it still have to be earned, or would it be available to anyone who shows up? How would cash-strapped states and localities fund the services these new citizens would need? And, shouldn't there be consequences for breaking current immigration laws?
Personally, I believe that the borders should be secured, and a path to citizenship established for the illegal immigrants who are here. But achieving that kind of balanced public policy outcome becomes less likely as long as opinion-makers like Mrs. Townsend espouse such an extremist, polarizing position.
I have been following Mrs. Townsend's career since 1986. Whenever she approaches a microphone, rarely does she not say or do something that causes me to scratch my head in disbelief. Still, her remarks do bring clarity in one respect: Regardless of who wins the 2010 gubernatorial election, it's clear that Maryland voted for the right person in 2002.