7/31/07

Immigration debate wasn't colorblind

Immigration debate wasn't colorblind (by Ruben Navarrette - 7.29.07)

SAN DIEGO -- The winners write the history. And now that border restrictionists have won the battle to scuttle immigration reform, the history that many are desperate to write is that the debate was colorblind.

Really. The restrictionists and those pundits who have taken up their cause claim that race and ethnicity aren't even part of the discussion and that those who oppose giving illegal immigrants a shot at legal status would feel the same way if the immigrants were coming from Canada instead of Mexico. They say their concerns are limited to border security and the rule of law, and have nothing to do with nativism or xenophobia. And they reject any suggestion that the debate was hostile to Hispanics.

And, as I travel the country speaking to Hispanic groups, one thing I hear is that "anti-immigrant" rapidly morphed into "anti-Hispanic" and specifically "anti-Mexican."
This is the fable being spun by CNN's Lou Dobbs, a commentator labeled by New York Times columnist David Leonhardt as "the heir to the nativist tradition that has long used fiction and conspiracy theories as a weapon against the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Jews and, now, the Mexicans." In recent days, Dobbs has argued that the Senate compromise died because Americans of all colors dispassionately concluded that it was bad for the country. Racism played no role, he insists.

Most Hispanics feel differently. I've seen three surveys, including one by the Pew Hispanic Center, where majorities of Hispanics say that the immigration debate has led to an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment. And, as I travel the country speaking to Hispanic groups, one thing I hear is that "anti-immigrant" rapidly morphed into "anti-Hispanic" and specifically "anti-Mexican."

I get evidence of that every day in my e-mail. Just last week, after I defended the prosecution of two Border Patrol agents, a reader called me a "dirty Latino" who needs to get "back to Mexico." Another writer called me an "anchor baby" -- the term used by nativists to describe the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. Never mind that I was born in the United States and my parents were born in the United States. What I see here is racism.

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