Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shades of Shameful Past in Anti-Immigrant Agenda




Shades of shameful past in anti-immigrant agenda

By Peter Schrag

Article Launched: 12/31/2007 01:38:55 AM PST

Who said this?

"Immigration to this country is increasing and is making its greatest relative increase from races most alien to the body of the American people and from the lowest and most illiterate classes among those races . . . half of whom have no occupation and most of whom represent the rudest form of labor.

"The immigrants who come to the United States reduce the rate of wages by ruinous competition, and then take their savings out of the country. Home as a foreign country. . . . They have no interest or stake in country and never become American citizens." Many, he went on, are genetically prone to crime, insanity and disease.

The author, in a pair of articles on "The Restriction of Immigration" for The Atlantic magazine in 1891, was Rep. (later Sen.) Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. His undesirables were Jews, Italians, Poles and Hungarians, people like GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo's Sicilian great-grandparents. In those days, of course, everybody was undocumented.

So you can say that the current debate among GOP candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney about who would be the meanest, toughest guy on illegal immigration is in an American tradition almost as old as immigration itself.

The tradition goes back to the Salem witch trials - and "No Irish Need Apply" and "The Chinese Must Go," and "Japs keep moving." Not all of it was overtly racist. The official targets of the Great Red Scare of the 1920s were communists and anarchists,

although most of them also happened to be Italian immigrants. And there was, of course, the pursuit of communists, alleged communists and "fellow travelers" in the 1950s, and the blacklists and loyalty oaths that came with it. Americans were encouraged (and often pressured) to denounce colleagues and associates they suspected. Hollywood producers, politicians and university trustees, including the regents of the University of California, folded under the pressure. Many of the blacklisted never recovered.

The present furor about illegal immigrants isn't quite like any of those things. But the attempt to exploit anti-immigrant rage and fear by politicians such as Romney and Giuliani and by the radio talkers that thrive on the issue comes awfully close.

Some Republicans, Karl Rove probably included, are tearing their hair. Rove and his former boss, George W. Bush, worked hard to appeal to the growing body of Latino voters. But like John McCain, they got ripped for their sponsorship of the comprehensive immigration reform bill that got filibustered to death by hard-liners last June.

And now that immigration is again a hot-button issue, Romney and Giuliani, among others, have taken a page from former California Gov. Pete Wilson's old 1994 playbook, trading short-term political gain for disastrous long-term losses in support from the growing ranks of Latino voters. "Some in the party seem pleased," said former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. "They should be terrified."

Until recently, McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee were the honorable exceptions among the GOP candidates. Huckabee, who got whacked by Romney for backing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, replied, "In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did." But since then, as he rose in the polls (and read the polls) he's signed on to his own version of the Tancredo creed. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, like Giuliani another recent convert who's read the same polls, is running for cover.

The damage is not only to rational discourse about immigration but also in the futile diversion from the real sources of the real fears - about off-shoring and job security, health care, corporate power and fraud and a long list of fading certainties - that feed the issue. Sooner or later we'll probably look back at this episode with the same embarrassment and shame as we did the others, but it could be an ugly time until we get there.


The Mexican Repatriation Program -- La Repatriación Mexicana
Operation Wetback!
The Bracero Program!
Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME

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