Nuance Escapes Both Supporters and Foes of Illegal Immigration

Recently, I wrote a column for PJ Media explaining why President Obama is hemorrhaging Latino support as America’s largest minority -- like many other segments of society -- figures out that it has been hustled by a president whose words don’t match his actions.

But I happened to toss in a few lines in which I accused Republicans of behaving “despicably” and throwing a “piñata party” by demonizing Latinos in the immigration debate.

Apparently, that’s the only part of the piece that some people read. That includes the conservative radio talk show host who, blood boiling, booked me on his show to try to rough me up.

So far, none of this is very surprising. It’s just another day at the office. When I’m not busy fighting with defensive left-wingers in denial about Obama’s deceptive and inadequate handling of the immigration issue, I’m mixing it up with defensive right-wingers in denial about how horribly the Republican Party has handled the issue.

The surprise came from the fact that the radio host itching for a fight was my old friend, Larry Elder of KABC. I’ve known Larry for 18 years. In fact, we were once co-workers. He was the 9pm to midnight host at KABC, and I was the co-host (with Tavis Smiley) of a show at the same hour on sister station KMPC. The studios were just a few feet away from each other. And sometimes, after work, the three of us would meet up for early breakfast at a 24-hour diner near the station.

I like Larry. And I respect him. More than that, I identify with him. Here’s why: I would guess that, as a black conservative, he’s been called an Uncle Tom about as often as I’ve called the Latino equivalent -- a “Tio Taco.” And in both those cases, the attacks on us have come from both members of our own tribes and -- as an added treat --- presumptuous white liberals who treat minorities like a ventriloquist treats his dummy. The critics think they have us all figured out, and prefer to marginalize us by treating us like ideological stick figures. No complexity. No nuance. No gray area. No thoughtfulness. They see conservatives of color as cartoon figures, because it makes it easier to dismiss what we have to say. And they’d rather dismiss it than hear it.

So, given all that, I was surprised and disappointed that, during our hour-long interview, Larry tried to do to me what countless people have tried to do to him over the last two decade --  reduce me to a one-dimensional caricature: The Mexican-American columnist who supports illegal immigration from Mexico so he can bring in his relatives for Sunday dinner.

What a cliché. It’s too bad that, in my case, the sombrero doesn’t fit. For these PJM pages, and elsewhere, I’ve written many times that I support deporting illegal immigrants, raiding workplaces, and beefing up the ranks of the Border Patrol.

Yet, I won’t hold my tongue about the boneheaded and often offensive way in which many Republicans instinctively approach the immigration debate. They always make the same mistakes: pitching simple solutions to a complicated problem; framing the debate as a battle between “us” and “them”; pandering to racism and nativism to rev up the GOP base; assuming illegal immigration can be stopped with border enforcement alone; giving employers of illegal immigrants a pass; making the debate about changing demographics and the cultural landscape; getting distracted by sideshows like whether to override the 14th Amendment to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants; refusing to admit that the U.S. economy needs illegal immigrants because Americans have raised at least three generations of young people who won’t do the jobs that illegal immigrants do, etc.

But, whenever I write any of those things, readers forget everything I’ve said previously about opposing illegal immigration and supporting reasonable enforcement measures to curb it. Some don’t even have to read what I’ve written. They stop at my surname and draw their conclusions from there.

And that’s what happened on the radio show. Caller after caller accused me of supporting illegal immigration and labeling anyone who disagreed with me a racist.

Neither is true. As anyone who has read -- really read and understood -- some of the hundreds of columns I’ve written about immigration over the last 20 years could tell you, my position on the issue is a lot more nuanced than that.

Unfortunately for an industry I know firsthand and still hold dear, nuance and a lot of what you hear on talk radio these days aren’t on the same frequency.