When immigration restrictionists — a posse made up of folks who are put off by the browning of America and pining away for the days of Leave It to Beaver — aren’t trying to keep out foreigners, they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to keep up appearances.
A lot of these folks really want the rest of us to believe that they have absolutely no beef whatsoever with anyone who plays by the rules and comes to the United States legally.
Like the Rhode Island radio talk show host who interviewed me recently. She tried to convince me that the debate wasn’t about legal immigrants — only the illegal ones.
Or the reader of my syndicated column who accused me of leaving out a crucial word when I write about the benefits of immigration. “The word is LEGAL,” he wrote. “Legal immigration is what our country is built on.”
Or the reader who — responding to something that I’d written for PJM — accused me of misrepresenting what Americans are really concerned about. “It’s anti-illegal-immigration,” he wrote. “And we SHOULD NOT TOLERATE the miscasting of this issue as anti-immigration. It’s a base deceit.”
These poor people. This is how many Americans square one of our country’s great contradictions — that a nation of immigrants could be so hostile to immigrants. Not so, they claim. America loves its immigrants, always has, if they come legally. Some people really believe that, notwithstanding all historical evidence to the contrary. Others must realize that, once we figure out that legal immigrants are also under fire, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to concluding that these folks are not really anti-illegal immigrant but anti-foreigner. And, thank goodness, more than a century and a half after the demise of the nativist “Know-Nothing” party in this country, the latter is still less socially acceptable than the former.
There is only one problem: what these people so desperately want us to believe isn’t true. Many Americans are worried about LEGAL immigrants. They do want to limit the number of people who come to the United States legally. They are anti-foreigner.
It’s not about labels. People put up walls when they’re hit with words like “racist” or “nativist.” The terms aren’t important. Call it what you like. The bottom line is that there are many Americans out there who seem to believe that this was a better, stronger, safer, and more productive country when the population was whiter.
Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan made that claim explicitly five years ago in his book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. Buchanan argued that the United States was much better off in the mid-20th century when most of the immigrants who arrived here came from Europe and not Asia, Africa, or Latin America. And what do those people have in common? They’re not white.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), isn’t shy about acknowledging that his organization wants to end illegal immigration but also limit legal immigration. Krikorian’s book is titled The Case against Immigration, Legal and Illegal.
Steven Camarota, director of research for CIS and Krikorian’s top deputy, recently told Politico that congressional leaders could expect to receive pressure to look beyond illegal immigrants because “there is a lot of public support for reducing legal immigration.”
CIS is just one of a web of anti-immigrant groups started or supported by the notorious eugenicist John Tanton. Two other Tanton groups, the Federation for American Immigration Reform and NUMBERSUSA, also support limiting legal immigration to ridiculously low levels — as few as a couple hundred thousands legal immigrants per year.
Some members of Congress have consumed the Kool-Aid and proposed a national moratorium on all immigration, including the legal kind. The leader of this chorus used to be former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). But now you’re likely to hear the same song from immigration hardliners like Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), both of whom support limiting legal immigration.
And now that the immigration debate has moved back to the state and local level, it’s no surprise that state and local officials are coming out against legal immigration.
Most notably, State Sen. Russell Pearce (R-AZ) — the author of Arizona’s dreadful and dysfunctional immigration law SB-1070 — made clear that he doesn’t just have a problem with illegal immigrants but with all immigrants. During a recent panel discussion in Washington, D.C., hosted by the conservative group Judicial Watch, Pearce declared:
I do think there ought to be a moratorium, maybe, until we get our act together. …We’re allowing people to come through without complete background checks, you know, we’re letting people overstay their visas. … Um, there ought to be a timeout all the way around until we get our arms around national security.
Pearce is partly right. The immigration debate does need a timeout — on dishonesty. We need to pull the plug on the lies, including the absurd claim that immigration restrictionists aren’t going after legal immigrants.
Of course, they are. And that leads me to ask: what part of legal don’t these people understand?