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Racism a Reality in Immigration Reform Debate

There's no getting away from the fact that some opponents of immigration reform have racist attitudes toward newcomers.

by
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

Bio

September 30, 2009 - 12:07 am
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As we’ve seen, Obama supporters have a distasteful habit of accusing critics of racism. A white president, they insist, wouldn’t be treated so disrespectfully — heckled by a member of Congress, questioned about his U.S. citizenship, caricatured as an African witch doctor, etc.

But what in the world does any of this have to do with the immigration debate? Not much, except perhaps in the mind of the reader who recently objected to a commentary I wrote on this site about Obama supporters playing the race card. After all, he claimed, I deal from the same deck when arguing in favor of comprehensive immigration reform — including earned legalization for undocumented immigrants.

“This is your standard SOP for anyone that disagrees with you,” he wrote. “It’s also standard SOP for all left wing nutters. Must we link to only about 5 different pieces that you wrote in PJM alone where you say anyone that opposes your ideas is racist.”

Thus, I stand accused of hypocrisy and of unfairly injecting race into the immigration discussion.

I plead “not guilty” to both counts.

First, unlike Team Obama, I’ve never used the accusation of racism as a device to get people to stop criticizing me. All I’ve done is point out that parts of the immigration debate are all about race and always have been — unless you believe that Benjamin Franklin railed against German immigrants in the late 1700s because of, say, national security.

Or maybe you think that, when Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, it was being colorblind. Or maybe you believe that, when Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, in 1905, accused immigrants of “diminishing the quality of our citizenship,” it had nothing at all do with the fact that most of the immigrants streaming into Lodge’s state of Massachusetts happened to be Irish. Or maybe you think it’s just a coincidence that, when Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924, it sought primarily to limit the number of immigrants from “southern Europe” (read: Italy). Today, unfortunately but unavoidably, the immigration reform debate has morphed from anti-illegal immigration to anti-Latino.

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