A dozen social justice organizations representing thousands of Rhode Islanders have called upon RI Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello to publicly renounce racism and bias after a political mailer his re-election campaign sent to Cranston homes portrayed the Speaker, arms crossed, saying that “Nick Mattiello stopped driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.”
“We simply cannot tolerate referring to our families as alien, or illegal,” the open letter states, after quoting historian and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, who famously said, “You, who are so-called illegal aliens, must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
Today the term is widely regarded as being bigoted, inaccurate, and racist. The Library of Congress, the State of California and the Associated Press Stylebook have all stopped using the term. Charles Garcia explains the history and the problems associated with the term here.
Here’s the full text of the open letter:
It is with great dismay and sadness that we write this. Speaker Mattiello, your recent mailing hurt us by appealing to the ugliest fears and emotions simmering all too close to the surface. Using demeaning language for people who live in our communities does nothing to advance informed policy debate, and everything to fan the embers of xenophobia and racism into flame.
We all want to live in communities where we are respected, valued, and included. The open hatred and vitriol that has been the background noise of this campaign season has created a climate of fear, and anger directed against our community, and has resulted in real trauma. We are disappointed to see you join this process, and further traumatize our neighbors, loved ones, and families.
The Associated Press Stylebook stopped sanctioning the term “illegal immigrant” back in 2013. Writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is well known for declaring that no human being can be illegal. “That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”
The drive to win is not a license to be free from moral guidance, or to appeal to the most base instincts of our fellow humans. We simply cannot tolerate referring to our families as alien, or illegal. Recognizing our shared humanity is a fundamental obligation for all of us, and especially for those in public life and leadership. This mutual recognition forms the very basis of our ability to build and sustain community. To rename, to dismiss, and to mask the humanity of one group of our neighbors is to engage in behavior that would preclude growth, change, and dialog. Speaker Mattiello, we call on you to renounce and reject racism and bias publicly.
Mike Araujo, Director RI Jobs with Justice
Toby Ayers PhD, RI Civil Rights Roundtable
Christina Cabrerra, Executive Director Environmental Justice League, English for Action
Raul Figueroa, Organizer Fuerza Laboral
Emily Jones, Director RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty
Rodrigo Pimentel, Coalition For Safer Roads
Lilliana Sampedro, Brown Student Labor Alliance, RI Jobs With Justice Student Chairperson
Jenn Steinfeld, Facilitator, Racial Justice Coalition
Sarath Suong, Director PrYSM
Chief Sequan Pijaki, Pocasset Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation
Sachem Ulum Pixan Ahtohil, Indigenous People’s Network
Mario Bueno, Executive Director Progreso Latino, Steering Committee RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty
Mattiello is in a tough fight for his House seat against Republican Steven Frias. During a debate on Channel 12 Frias also said he was opposed to granting driver’s licenses to undocumented workers.
Governor Gina Raimondo made a promise, in writing, to grant licenses to undocumented workers through executive order, but after becoming Governor broke that promise, referring the issue to the General Assembly, where, Mattiello claims to have single-handedly blocked passage.
The Mattiello campaign did not respond to a request for comment.