Why are those people saying such wrong things about Stu Bykofsky?

Posted: August 22, 2014


My name is Christine Flowers and I am an immigration lawyer. I am also an avid reader of the People Paper, and love your Letters to the Editor section. They're usually a lot more articulate than the rants you read at Philly.com in the comments section. I'm sure the columnists have stopped reading those online firebombs long ago. If they haven't, they should.

Every now and then, though, it seems as if some of that Philly.com vibe spills over onto the printed page. That happened over the past few days with respect to one of my favorite columnists, Stu Bykofsky.

As an immigration lawyer, I'm sure you can imagine that I don't always agree with Stu when it comes to my livelihood. He's been known to call people I otherwise call clients "illegal," and while I get his point, it annoys me that any human being gets tagged with that label. Of course, those men and women who call unborn human beings "Mommy's Convenient Constitutional Choice" are even more objectionable, but I suppose I'm comparing manzanas and naranjas on that one.

Oh, sorry, I'm jumping ahead of myself. It's just that Stu somehow seems to have become the anti-Latino pooh-bah to a whole slew of congenitally aggrieved folk these days, so I naturally started thinking en Espanol.

The thing is, criticizing illegal immigration is not, to my mind, the same as being bigoted, racist or xenophobic. It's also not a veiled way of attacking Latinos, despite the wailing of the uber-sensitive.

I spend most of my day dealing with immigrants. A slight majority are from our Southern Hemisphere, and I do spend a good bit of time flexing my Spanish muscles, but to conflate anti-undocumented sentiment with a particular form of ethnic bigotry is naive at best, dishonest at worse.

Sadly, given the elevated educational level of the recent letter writers, I'm fairly certain naivete is not their problem.

On Tuesday, Helen Gym, valiant defender of our city's school children, wrote in to express her dismay at the way Stu allegedly hates foreigners, although she didn't put it in quite those terms. Helen wrote that "Philadelphia is a rapidly expanding and diversifying city." So far, so good, and very good for me in my immigration practice. But, then, she added, "That fact terrifies and angers Stu Bykofsky." Personally, I doubt Stu has ever been terrified by anything other than the prospect of having lunch with a bicyclist. Helen ended with, "It doesn't explain why the Daily News continues to publish him without restraint."

That last sentence is the terrifying one in my opinion since, as someone who has read this paper for more than three decades, I have a fierce loyalty to and appreciation for all its writers. Although I rarely share their opinions, I admire their ability to express themselves to the point that they provoke heated responses. The suggestion by Helen Gym that you should "restrain" any of those writers (which I take as a nice euphemism for "censor") is anathema to me and to anyone who buys your paper. Given her accomplishments, I'm surprised she'd even suggest it.

Then we have the good folks at Juntos, who are well-known to immigration lawyers like me for their strong advocacy of the undocumented. The executive director wrote a long letter on Wednesday effectively accusing Stu Bykofsky of stoking anti-Latino hatred and causing members of her organization to receive threatening phone calls by simply writing a column critical of her colleagues. While I'm sure it's never pleasant to hear that your efforts are not exactly appreciated by everyone, it's a stretch to connect threats from crazed quasi-criminals to a newspaper columnist. It's as if Juntos was attacking Byko as Philadelphia's answer to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. As someone who deals with Latinos every day of my life, I'd like to think that an organization that represents them would be a bit more informed about cause, effect and a free press.

Alas, that does not seem to be the case, since its executive director wrote, "The question is why any newspaper would allow itself to be a vehicle for [Bykofsky's] rhetoric that is normalizing and fomenting an anti-Latino environment in Philadelphia . . . instead of giving credence to his irresponsible opinionating, the paper should make it clear that 'Am I anti-Latino?' is why he will be asking 'Why am I out of a job?' and terminate his tenure immediately."

This is hyperbole of the highest order and, to my mind at least, shows disrespect for all of the city's residents, regardless of ethnicity. To presume that Philadelphians are so filled with hatred that they will react in a violent and bigoted manner to a newspaper column expressing an opinion is ridiculous.

It also recalls something that is very similar to what happened in the countries many Latinos are fleeing: intimidate, and ultimately destroy, a free press. As someone who has represented refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, I'm fairly certain they would be, in Ms. Gym's words, terrified to see it happening here.


Christine Flowers

Havertown, Pa.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

Email: cflowers1961@gmail.com

Blog: philly.com/flowers

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