Congressman Roe, what are you doing when not inciting division and racism?

February 15, 20190

This morning, WCYB Reporter, John Engel, interviewed Tennessee’s First Congressional District Representative, Phil Roe, where Congressman Roe stated that “many” of the students taking English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in the Johnson City School System are here illegally.

John Engel asked: “Congressman, if they’re hiring English learning language teachers, that doesn’t necessarily mean those students are in this country illegally does it?”

Congressman Roe replied: “Not necessarily, no no. But many of them are.”

John Engel followed up: “Do you know that?”

Congressman Roe replied: “Yeah, I know that. Absolutely I know that.”

Congressman Roe cited the 14 ESL teachers in the Johnson City School System as an indicator for the number of undocumented students in the school system and the drain they are on the school system and the community. Congressman Roe said:

“Now I’ll tell you the cost of that in one community. That doesn’t include hospitals and other things that go uncompensated. We’re paying now.”

Congressman Roe’s comments fall on the heels of President Trump’s latest move to secure the $3.5 Billion for border wall funding by declaring a national state of emergency. Not to forget, this is also while  he also signs the bipartisan congressional budget deal that did not include $3.5 Billion for a border wall. A wall that the President promised during his 2016 campaign would be paid for by Mexico. A wall that Congressman Roe has continued to support despite constituent outcry and outcries from across the nation.

Dr. Barnett, the Director of the Johnson City School System, confirmed today that there are 55 languages spoken within the system by students from all around the globe. The implication that Congressman Roe would take the Director’s statement about needed funded for ESL teachers as an indicator of undocumented students is racist. It’s intended to incite fear in the hearts of his constituents who believe this country, that our community, is being overtaken by undocumented immigrants.

Disabled students, like ESL students, needed additional resources, ones that able-bodied, English is a first language students do not need. These are students Dr. Barnett cited as being some of the hardest working students in the school system, they just need a little extra support.

Congressman Roe’s comments are intended to be a link for people looking for reasons as to why their taxes are higher (or their tax returns smaller)– because because of the assumption that the resources are being allocated for undocumented immigrants– or that the wait times in Emergency Rooms are longer– because of the assumption that that’s where undocumented immigrants go for healthcare. It’s a statement to create an enemy, a reason “you don’t have yours.” It gives those who are struggling someone to blame.

Everyone wants to ensure that Americans are safe. And yet the rhetoric coming out of the White House and Congressman Roe’s office is that we’re not because of our southern border. Yet, there are reports of an active shooter as this is typed in Aurora, Illinois. Two days ago, a gunman opened fire in a dentist office in Colonial Heights and murdered his wife. Yesterday was the anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that murdered 17. Congressman Roe, what are you doing to keep kids safe in schools and citizens safe on the streets, in shopping centers, in homes, or in office buildings?

As of 2015, nearly 1 in 3 adults in Tennessee has medical debt. As of 2012, this is a rate that ranks Tennessee 7th in the nation. This is attributed to the fact that the majority of the jobs in Tennessee are hourly jobs that don’t provide benefits, such as health insurance, except in more urban areas. But the First Congressional District that Congressman Roe represents is quite rural. Congressman Roe, what are you doing to increase your constituents access to healthcare?

In 2016, an ETSU student, Tristan Rettke, taunted Black Lives Matter activists outside the campus library while wearing a gorilla mask and holding a noose with a banana. Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation and was kicked off of the ETSU campus, yet Rettke’s lawyer is arguing that his client was exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Those students didn’t feel safe and Congressman Roe you remained silent about it. What are you doing to keep these students safe?

In the fall of 2018, a group of white nationalists planned to hold a rally in Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton, Tennessee (after they were unable to secure a location in Johnson City). The rally was ultimately canceled due a clause in the rental contract requiring the organization to cover the insurance for the event as well as the cost to secure the event– which included the cost to provide staff officers around the perimeter. Congressman Roe, what are you doing to ensure that white nationalists don’t see Northeast Tennessee as a prime location for rallies and ensuring that communities of color are welcome and safe here?

Rather than trying to link the 14 ESL teachers in the Johnson City School System to undocumented immigration– which isn’t a linkable fact– your constituents would much rather you focus on real threats rather than ones that are fabricated from the White House and echoed by your office. There are real issues your constituents in the First Congressional District are facing and we need you to represent us. You are our elected representative. Therefore, we ask that you focus on economic development, fair wages, fully funding public schools, economic opportunity, fair housing prices, preserving our natural environment by protecting our natural resources and the environment, and ensuring that everyone, regardless of how they identify– including their race, their age, their ethnicity, their religion, their gender, their gender identity, their orientation, or their ability– is treated equally and justly.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” ~ United States Constitution

Congressman Roe, this is the document you swore to uphold when you were elected to office in 2008 and sworn in to office in 2009. We the People need you to do your job.


Kate Craig

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