By Alan Bean
I met Kent McKeever several months ago when I spoke at a worship service highlighting the need for immigration reform held at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Kent had just arrived in Waco to work as an immigration attorney in cooperation with Jimmy Dorrell’s Mission Waco. I knew immediately that Kent was one of those rare individuals Jesus had in mind when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).
A few weeks ago, law professor Mark Osler celebrated McKeever’s selfless odyssey in a Waco Tribune column:
A Baylor grad, he had gone on to get a degree from Princeton Theological Seminary before entering Vanderbilt’s top-flight law school. His credentials could have opened the door to many high-paying jobs, the kind of work (and pay) that students dream of. But his hope was for something very different. He wanted to return to Waco and provide legal services to the poor.
I saw Kent again last week at the Christian Community Development (CCDA) conference in New Orleans. He has been cooperating with a variety of evangelical groups working for immigration reform, most recently a diverse group calling itself Bibles, Badges and Business. The Waco Tribune has published an illuminating conversation between the Tribune editorial staff and this group, and McKeever was part of the discussion.
In New Orleans, McKeever told me he had recently attended a meeting in which several evangelical leaders, Anglo and Latino, had prayed with Congressman Bill Flores, R-Waco. Flores sounded like a potential ally. At worst, it didn’t appear he would be pandering to his Tea Party base or playing the demagogue.
A few days before our meeting in New Orleans, McKeever showed up at a town hall meeting, accompanied by several Latino friends. He was appalled by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and shameless pandering Flores dished out to an appreciative audience. The Christians who had prayed with Flores a few days earlier couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They felt betrayed. McKeever told me he was in the process of writing an opinion piece for the Tribune.
Some of his friends are upset with the adversarial tone of McKeever’s piece (see below). Who knows, they say, Flores may yet come around. Deep down, he is on our side.
No, he ain’t!
Texas Republicans are so fearful of being bushwhacked by the Tea Party candidates in primary elections that they are willing to say almost anything. If half-truths, racist rhetoric and outright distortion are called for, politicians like Flores will deliver. Nothing personal, you understand; this is politics.
Please read Kent McKeever’s letter, a fine example of prophetic utterance. When the strong trample on the weak, this is what purity of heart sounds like. Congressman, you have been rebuked.
Congressman Bill Flores owes our immigrant brothers and sisters an apology. As his constituents, we should demand he conduct himself in a manner more worthy of his calling.
I was appalled at the way Flores presented himself and led his diverse constituents at his recent town hall meeting. I went in trying to keep my mind and heart open, hoping to hear from someone who had wrestled with issues, relying on facts in making informed, reasonable policy decisions. I can work with that. I thought this might be possible from Flores after having broken bread with him a few months ago at a local faith and immigration breakfast.
But after perpetuation of shameful lies, denigrating, false statements and harmful stereotypes — mostly it seemed for political point-making and pandering to the “crowd” — I realized that my hopes were shattered that Flores could lead us courageously, reasonably and compassionately. There were precious few moments spent educating people with truths. For someone who cares enough to truly be informed, much that I heard that night was just downright wrong.
A few examples:
“Immigration is just bringing the poor into the U.S.” — blatantly false and spoken as if something is wrong with the poor.
“The American dream is available through the legal immigration system” — a completely unrealistic statement.
“Illegal immigrants have access to government benefits (and shouldn’t)” — a false statement promoting the idea all immigrants are poor, lazy moochers, which is far from the truth in so many ways. It is also untrue that “illegal” immigrants don’t pay taxes because millions do.
Our immigrant community deserves better than this, Mr. Flores, and so do your constituents. Rise above!
Kent McKeever, Waco