The President of the United States will give a major speech tonight about immigration policy which may make some conservative Republican heads explode – which they were probably going to do anyway. The House of Representatives has been sitting on a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill (S. 744) since June 27, 2013; a bill passage which provided a photo-op for Senators McCain and Schumer cheering the bipartisan effort. [Politico] The widely touted bill went to the Republican controlled House in which politics took precedence over policy. The GOP objected, and the leadership said it wanted to take up the measures in a piece-meal fashion, but none of the 19 related bills emerged from House committees. [Congress] Finally, it became relatively obvious to all, except those who would not see, that the Congress had no intention of voting on any immigration policy reform bill during this session of Congress. So, what’s so dodgy about the issue?
One problem for the Republican majority leadership in the House came from an ideological split in their own membership – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out forcefully in favor of S. 744. The radio broadcasts from the right wing screamed “amnesty!” House Speaker John Boehner was caught between two wings of the GOP, in its internecine conflict between commercial and financial interests and the Tea Party ultra-nationalists. He never brought the bill to the floor – or any of the others.
The failure to act on S. 744 offered cover for Representatives such as Joe Heck (R-NV3) who was free to say almost anything on immigration policy without having to adopt the provisions of a Republican bill, drafting a bill of his own, or taking a specific stance against the Senate version. The failure also allowed the ultra-right wing Tea Party members to ‘valiantly’ oppose ‘amnesty,’ in its current meaning – any reform of the immigration policy which allows a pathway to U.S. citizenship. Why does this create such a clamor from the right wing?
The Toxic Mix
It’s easy to spot the cornerstone of opposition from Tea Party types to any form of immigration policy reform, and the rock-like intransigence is made of up that usual conglomeration of bigotry, racism, and fear. At a purely political level it’s simply a chant “They (Democrats) want amnesty just to get votes.” This is an interesting charge because there isn’t a political party which ever existed for more than three minutes anywhere that wasn’t interested in increasing its base. Using this frame of reference how might we logically characterize vote suppression tactics and strategies from the Republicans which diminish the voting of ethnic minorities? “They just want to have just their own people voting?”
Reverting to the right wing scare machine for a moment, the commentators and pundits of Hate Radio have been pounding their message since Reagan offered amnesty to family members in 1986. [BusInsider] (Pre-emptive arguments, such as those offered by pundit David Frum, appear to know exactly what the President wants before he says it, and to assume that because the Simpson-Mazzoli Act didn’t solve the all problems in perpetuity, therefore any other attempt at reform won’t either.) The right wing has been lambasted with talking points ALL of which have long been debunked. “Immigrants don’t pay taxes.” No, they are paying taxes for services they will never receive. “Immigrants come here to get on welfare!” No, the ratio between taxes paid and services used in this country never favors the immigrant population. “They send all their money home!” No, not when they’re contributing about $162 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments, and not when they are paying for housing, food, clothing and other essentials.
“They take American jobs!” No, again. That myth has been long debunked. (See also: Boston Globe) “They don’t speak English, and don’t want to!” Now we’re gravitating into Nativist Territory. Within ten years of immigration most speak English well enough to sustain employment and other activities in their communities. [IPOrg] At the anecdotal level some who claim not to have a racist bone in their entire skeleton lament the advent of Spanish language broadcast programming, and Spanish language options on the telephone – retailers and other commercial interests figured out long ago that Spanish speaking immigrants aren’t “sending all their money home,” and want to make it as easy as possible for the immigrant families to part with some into the coffers of the marketers. None of this anti-immigrant rhetoric explains why we have more demand for English Language classes than the supply will fulfill.
When all else fails, the descendants of immigrants from the great wave of the early 20th century will passionately announce that these immigrants are “different.” Really, perhaps in that no immigrant from Honduras is going to see a “NINA” sign (No Irish Need Apply) but the discrimination remains the same. How conveniently we forget the anti-German rhetoric of World War I, the anti-Polish “jokes” that still have a place in the lexicon of some not-very-funny people? Just as the Irish, the Poles, the Russians, the Jews, the Chinese, and other previous immigrants experienced discrimination and derision – the Spanish speaking immigrants from Central and South America are now getting a taste of it. They are – different, and therefore suspect.
Are they so suspect that we must pile up the ramparts, and protect ourselves from the ‘scourge’ of un-American immigrants? We can look at our own state.
Nevada by the numbers: According to the last Census estimate (2013) there are 2,790,136 people living in the state of Nevada, or about 24.6 people per square mile of our acres and acres of acres and acres. 9% of the population is African American, 1.6% are Native American, 8.1% are of Asian descent , 27.5% are of Hispanic or Latino descent, and 52.2% report being white “alone” (not of Hispanic or Latino descent). 19.2% of Nevada residents are foreign born. Of those who are foreign born, as of 2010, 57.2% were from Latin America, 29.8% from Asia, 8.5% from Europe, 1.7% from Canada, 2.3% from Africa, and 0.5% from Oceania. [UNLV pdf] When the Census Bureau ran the numbers and published information about naturalized citizens and non-citizens in 2003, there were 2,207,575 residents of Nevada, of whom 379,885 were foreign born, or about 17%. 129,330 were naturalized citizens, and 250,555 were non-citizens, or about 11%. [Census download]
The following chart shows the percentage of residents of Hispanic or Latino descent by county, and the percentage of county residents (who might be of any ethnic classification) who are foreign born. [Census]
One of the more interesting features of this chart is the obvious fact that in NO county are all the residents of Hispanic or Latino descent foreign born; for example in Carson City, it’s impossible to have an Hispanic/Latino population of 22.7% who are all non-citizens – a subgroup constituting only 11.9% of the total population. In Humboldt County, 25.2% of the total population is of Hispanic/Latino descent, but only 13.6% of the total county population is foreign born. Maybe “THEY” aren’t so different after all, their children are in school – probably participating in the athletic programs; they are shopping at the supermarket; and, the odds are that they were born here.
So, if they are paying taxes, using few public services, spending money in local businesses, taking jobs few others want to perform, and learning to speak English as fast as they can … what’s the problem? Just once I’d like to hear a right wing radio personality be absolutely completely honest — “they” are different because they aren’t white. So, whatever the President says this evening, it will be as the wits say “A black man advocating for brown people” and this will cause the White-Wing politicians to launch their diatribes and epithets, and excuses for continuing to do nothing.
We know what people say about those who are good at making excuses? They usually aren’t very good at doing anything else.