Fattman Speaks, Doesn't Clarify

I've avoided writing about this controversy, mainly because I didn't have the time or inclination this week to make phone calls about some dumb-ass thing said by an obscure and powerless state representative -- not that it isn't worthy of follow-up, but I it just wasn't high on my priority list. But I have been curious about how Representative Ryan Fattman of Sutton would walk it back. Now he has -- he tried to explain himself in an interview, and then just now issued a statement -- and I do have something to say.

So first, let me lay it all out for those not up to speed on every comment made by obscure Central Massachusetts state representatives. Bear with me; I want people to be able to read through it themselves before I weigh in below.

It started after Governor Deval Patrick pulled the Commonwealth out of the federal "Secure Communities" program, which seeks to increase deportation of illegal immigrants accused of crimes. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran an article Wednesday about area lawmakers upset with Patrick about this, including Fattman, a Republican newly elected last November. Here's the money section:

Mr. Fattman dismissed concerns of some law enforcement officials — cited by the governor — who said using local police to enforce immigration laws could discourage reporting of crime by victims who are illegal immigrants.

Asked if he would be concerned that a woman without legal immigration status was raped and beaten as she walked down the street might be afraid to report the crime to police, Mr. Fattman said he was not worried about those implications.

“My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward,” Mr. Fattman said. “If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things,” he said referring to obtaining legal immigration status.

Blue Mass Group front-paged it, others picked up on it, and it eventually got national play. Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy got Fattman on the phone and wrote about his explanation. Fattman, Murphy wrote, does think undocumented women should report assaults.

According to Fattman, the Telegram quote ignores some key context: "If someone got into a car accident, it's obviously a tragic event. But if they're drunk and they crash, it's a crime," he explained. "If that person was drunk and survived the accident they would be afraid to come forward. I think if someone is here illegally they should be afraid to come forward because they should be afraid to be deported."

I asked him he thought that analogy really held weight. After all, if you drink and crash a car, that's your fault; if you're undocumented and get beaten up or raped, it's absolutely not.

"But if you weren't here, the crime wouldn't happen," Fattman says.

Asked by Murphy if such a rape victim should be arrested (and perhaps deported) after reporting the crime against her, Fattman says that should be at the discretion of the police officer.

That appeared on the Mother Jones site this afternoon. Later (after 5:00pm on a Friday, in fact) Fattman sent out this statement by email:

After reading the June 8th article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette entitled Immigrant Checks Urged, I am concerned about the representation of a quote attributed to me regarding immigrant checks and the Secure Communities Program.

The quote that I offered has been mis-portrayed and my true thoughts and feelings have not been properly expressed. During the interview in question, I was given hypothetical situations regarding illegal immigrants in Massachusetts. I responded that I was not concerned with hypothetical situations, but rather real life situations affecting people who properly obtain their immigration status in the Commonwealth. It should never have been interpreted any other way. I do and always will feel compassion towards victims of violent crimes.

As a supporter of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and the Walk for Change, I believe that a victim of any crime should not be afraid to come forward to law enforcement officials. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to the victim of any crime, and I have always been and will continue to be a strong proponent of victim advocacy.

I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of the 18th Worcester District.

So, that's the walk-back I was curious about.

It ain't much, is it? There's no apology. There's no claim to have been misquoted, either in the original article or by Murphy. He says, generically, that "a victim of any crime should not be afraid to come forward," but does not clarify what he thinks should happen to undocumented victims who do so.

Meanwhile, I haven't exactly seen a flood of Fattman's fellow Secure Communities supporters commenting about all this. There's been no mention on Red Mass Group, for instance, and there's been very little from conservatives on Twitter, for what that's worth, other than a couple of bland suggestions that perhaps Fattman's comments had been taken out of context.

Well, as I see it, those who want to crack down hard on illegal immigrants, a la the Secure Communities program, really do need to address this exact question. You can't have it both ways -- you can't send the message that we're coming to get you, and at the same time expect those same people to not be afraid to come forward when you think it's OK.

That's the tap-dance Fattman makes in his statement -- all victims "should" be unafraid to seek help, he says. Well, you can't just wish away fear, representative, can you?

There's nothing new here. This has been a central point of this debate for years. In 2007, Rudy Giuliani was pilloried in the GOP Presidential primary debates for having taken the other approach in New York City. Giuliani tried gamely to explain that by sending the opposite signal -- that police will not seek to arrest and deport you -- the city was able to get victims and witnesses to cooperate with police, which played a pivotal role in reducing crime.

As I say, he was pilloried for this. And Charlie Baker hammered Deval Patrick over this exact issue during the gubernatorial campaign last year, joined by a loud chorus of like-minded people.

It certainly seems to me that in all of those cases, as in the current debate, those taking the Secure Communities side -- at least, those who have paid any attention at all to the arguments made on both sides, which I would hope most folks, and certainly elected officials, try to do -- understand that they are trading that aspect of public safety for what they feel is the greater public interest of discouraging people from living here illegally.

That's a legitimate position to hold. But if you're on that side -- Mr. Fattman -- that's your position. If you want the millions of people living in the US illegally to know that law enforcement is going to make every effort to identify their status, arrest them, and attempt to deport them, then you want those millions of people to live in a state of constant fear of engagement with law enforcement and other legal or official entities. They will be afraid to show up at emergency rooms when ill or injured; they will be afraid to report dangerous conditions or unfair treatment at work; they will be afraid to report the slumlords refusing to maintain their apartments; and they will certainly be afraid to report crimes to the police, whether committed against others or themselves.

Fattman was asked about this, and I think he answered honestly -- not maliciously, not cold-heartedly, but honestly. Of course, the intent of the Secure Communities law is to make living here illegally so untenable that people won't want to continue living here illegally. That includes the notion that they can have the use of the positive aspects of law enforcement without the negative ones.

That's why he hasn't actually been able to re-answer the question differently, even in a prepared statement -- that question being the "hypothetical" from the Telegram & Gazette, would you be concerned that a woman without legal immigration status, who was raped and beaten as she walked down the street, might be afraid to report the crime to police.

He has no other way to honestly answer that. Nor do other supporters of this type of public policy. Fattman can write that all victims "should" feel unafraid, but that's not an answer. The right answer, if you support Secure Communities, is the one Fattman gave in the first place: yes, those hypothetical victims will feel afraid. As the policy intends.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Talking Politics Archives