"A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation." Adlai E. Stevenson
Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu, is running for Congress in Arizona's extremely conservative, newly formed 4th District. He is a vehement proponent of stricter border enforcement and has appeared repeatedly on Fox News and other channels in support of Arizona's tough immigration law that makes the failure to carry proof of legal immigration status a crime. He can be seen here discussing the topic on CNN's Saturday Morning show after a temporary injunction against certain of the law's provisions was upheld by federal courts.
Sheriff Babeu appears to have led a closeted life involving a long-term relationship with a Mexican immigrant, Jose, whom he is accused of threatening with deportation if Jose ever made this fact public. Unpersuaded but intimidated, Jose sought legal protection and told his story to the Phoenix New Times (which he said he did in an effort to stay out of Babeu's reach).
As a lawyer I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so there may be another perfectly plausible reason for Sheriff's Babeu's hand to be under Jose's shirt in this photo. Perhaps he was frisking him or looking for his legal papers. The sheriff's text messages to Jose ("and you say you loved me Papi?") and his self-portrait in nothing but underpants on the gay dating site all probably have equally convincing explanations.
Or maybe not. And maybe the threats that Jose said he suffered as a result of their break-up were true as well. As my immigration colleague, Nancy-Jo Merritt, who practices in Phoenix says in the report, such threats are indicative of an "atmosphere that's been created politically in this state, so that if you get angry at someone who is Hispanic, you immediately jump down to the level of threatening to deport him....If what [Babeu's attorney] says is correct [about Jose's being illegal], either the sheriff had a long relationship with someone he knew was undocumented, while all the time being Mr. Bluster about the border and using it for political gain," or he threatened to deport someone he just broke up with.
In some ways this story flies in the face of my belief that if we just get to know the real human being behind the immigrant "alien" then we wouldn't be so virulent in our anti-immigrant rhetoric. There is a very sweet video about an Alabama farmer and his close friendship with his undocumented employee, Paco, that illustrates this effect in the series "Not the Kind of Alabama I Want" (which was created in response to Alabama's oppressive immigration laws that mirror those of Arizona). But maybe that's the nature of being closeted and in self-denial. In the extreme it allows a person to lash out at the community of the very same person that he or she loves.
By the way, Sheriff Babeu's Valentine's Day message on his campaign site was, "It's time to send a true conservative to Washington, D.C." It makes me wonder about all of the openly gay mixed-nationality couples around the country who also celebrated Valentine's Day this past week, many of whom are now legally married under the laws of the states where they reside. Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, however, which even our President says is unconstitutional, these marriages are not recognized under federal immigration law and therefore are of no value in ensuring that an American citizen can live together in the U.S. with his or her spouse. There is change in the air, however, as temporary reprieves against deportation have been granted recently to same-sex couples by favorably disposed immigration officials, with the support of the administration.
I believe that Sheriff Babeu and Jose are at a lovers' crossroad and the solution for them is clear: kiss and make up, go to a state where they can legally marry, file for immigration relief for Jose, and campaign for Congress under a new slogan, "It's time to send a truly honest politician to Washington, D.C."
Postcript: Sheriff Babeu did the right thing and announced yesterday (Feb. 18) that he was in fact in a relationship with Jose, but that he never threatened him with deportation. He also said, "This issue (of being gay) has been floated around even when I was a candidate for sheriff ... by my political opponents and those throughout my life. This is 20-plus years that I've had numerous people that would threaten this to me, to expose me, go to my chain of command, even in the military, to report this and have done so. So it's almost as if there is a relief today to not be threatened." (Emphasis added.) There's a lesson here, about honesty, being true to one's self, and the relief that comes from no longer living in fear. I wonder now whether the conservatives of Pima County will continue to embrace Sheriff Babeu after his revelation and I hope that Sheriff Babeu has gained a new-found empathy for those who live in fear of discovery.