Immigration debate tinged by racism, Latinos charge

immigration protest

Immigration is an important issue in the United States, but is it something the GOP nomination for president should hinge on? Is there a reason that as unauthorized immigration from Mexico to the U.S. steadily declines, the rhetoric becomes ever more charged?

Is racism part of the equation?

“The immigration debate has been influenced by bigotry and fueled by nativist extremists such as former Congressman Tom Tancredo and State Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona who sponsored a law that violates the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution,” says DeeDee Garcia Blase, executive director of Somos Republicans.

The question of racism was raised recently by right-wing columnist Dennis Prager, writing in National Review.

Prager, predictably, says it is practicality–not racism–that is driving the discussion, but his column has drawn rebuttal from some. That he writes in a somewhat paternal tone may not help his cause.

Prager writes:

All it takes is common sense to understand that we simply cannot afford to take care of all of you in our medical, educational, penal, and other institutions. However much you may pay in sales tax, most illegal immigrants are a financial and social burden in those states in which most of them settle.

Yes, many of you are also a blessing. Many of you take care of our children and our homes. Others of you prepare our food and do other work that is essential to our society. We know that. As individuals, the great majority of you are hardworking, responsible, decent people.

But none of that answers the question: How many people can this country allow to come in?

The moment you answer that question is the moment you realize that Americans’ worries about illegal immigration have nothing to do with “racism” or any negative feeling toward Hispanics.

Those who tell you it is racism or xenophobia are lying about their fellow Americans for political or ideological reasons. You know from your daily interactions with Americans that the vast majority of us treat you with the dignity that every fellow human being deserves. Your daily lives are the most eloquent refutation of the charge of racism and bigotry. The charge is a terrible lie. Please don’t believe it. You know it is not true.

Daniel Cubias, writing at Being Latino Online, is having none of it, or not much of it in any event.

Cubias writes:

Now, I’m sure Prager is sincere. But he is giving his fellow conservatives way too much credit.

No doubt, plenty of Republicans have legitimate objections to illegal immigration that have nothing to do with race. But to say, as Prager does, that “the vast majority of us could not care less if your name is Gonzalez or Jones” is to deny reality.

It was not liberals who ran commercials depicting Latinos as menacing thugs, or made jokes about shooting undocumented people like vermin, or called Latinos “locusts,” or… well, you get the picture. The point is that conservatives did all that (and more) by themselves, unprompted.

Still, this is anecdotal evidence. Do we have anything a bit more concrete that ties racism to the immigration debate?

Well, Mother Jones recently reported that a majority of our favorite group, the Tea Party, believes “that newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values.” Furthermore, a whopping 72 percent think we “should deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries,” despite the fact that this would probably lead to economic chaos.

Another study showed that “racial resentment” was second only to “conservative ideology” when it came to the motivations of Tea Party members. And yet Prager would have us believe that their views on immigration are not influenced by even a hint of bigotry.

Let’s give credit to Prager for a couple of things, however. His attempt to speak directly to Latinos is rare for a conservative. More often, they’re busy riling up their base by speaking about Latinos. And his column is free of vitriol and even makes an attempt (however awkward) to see things from the perspective of an undocumented person.

But ultimately, Prager’s column appears to be a conservative’s uncomfortable epiphany. He knows that the disappointment many Latinos feel for the Democrats is no match for the hostility they harbor for the GOP. Prager is trying to undo the damage, stating that the allegation of rampant bigotry in the GOP “is a terrible lie. Please don’t believe it. You know it is not true.”

This shameless, rather pathetic pleading is what the conservative approach to Latinos and immigration has been reduced to. Rather than attempting to clean up the racism that infects their movement, conservatives are now trying to insist that this prejudice doesn’t exist at all.

I’m sorry if I don’t quite buy it.

Garcia Blase says racism is practically institutionalized in so far as much of the information used by the GOP in justifying harsh immigration laws and rhetoric comes from what she believes to be racist organizations.

“Powerful groups like NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are part of a strong lobbying anti-immigration ‘movement,’ where NumbersUSA has at least 600,000 due paying members,” she says.

FAIR was founded by John Tanton, a man known for his support of eugenics research. In fact, FAIR has received major funding from the Pioneer Fund, which is dedicated to racial purity through eugenics.

Garcia Blase is a fairly staunch Republican on most issues, finding fault primarily in the party’s position on immigration and immigrant rights.

“We have warned all GOP candidates that the anti-immigrant messaging must be dominated with a principle they claim to value — free market thinking. Most GOP candidates excluding Gary Johnson are afraid to truthfully debate the benefits with regard to how immigrants have contributed to American society,” Garcia Blase said. “We believe GOP candidates are afraid of the Tea Party extremists, and they simply lack the spine Ronald Reagan had when he was confronted with tough issues. It is unfortunate that Rick Perry allowed Mitt Romney to put him in a defensive corner because Romney is repeating his anti-immigrant history when he ran against John McCain in 2008. Romney’s hostility towards immigrants in wanting to send them all back is clearly unreasonable and if Romney secures the GOP nomination, Latin Republican support will continue to dwindle. The GOP will not secure a healthy Latin vote during the Presidential 2012 elections due to the hostility and the extreme rhetoric the Republican National Committee (RNC) has failed to moderate.

“It is unfortunate the Republican Party has been hijacked by Tea Party extremists,” she says.

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