So if you want a clear example of why we desperately need to be having these conversations -- why it's vital that we begin putting a human, and real, face on the immigration debate -- check out what happened a couple of Sundays ago in Hazleton, Pa., where the city has been passing anti-immigrant ordinances:
- The publisher of a Spanish-language newspaper had to leave an immigration rally Sunday in Hazleton after a crowd surrounded him and began yelling for him to “get out of the country.”
Amilcar Arroyo, publisher of Hazleton-based El Mensajero, was covering the event when he was verbally attacked by a crowd who thought he was an illegal immigrant and a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against Hazleton.
Arroyo is an American citizen and is not a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“For them, I am one of those. They label us all illegal aliens,” Arroyo, an immigrant from Peru, said.
The rally was organized to show support for Mayor Lou Barletta and the city’s illegal immigration ordinance. Several hundred attended it and no other incidents were reported.
Several in the crowd began yelling at Arroyo after a rumor circulated he was one of the people suing the city for its illegal immigration ordinance, said Pamela Hauptmann, of Bethlehem, who was one of the people who confronted Arroyo.
“Someone went over to him and asked him if he was suing the mayor,” Hauptmann said in an interview Monday. “Then we said, ‘Why don’t you go home?’”
The incident was captured on video by The Morning Call, of Allentown. Some shouted “get out of the country” as others can be heard chanting “traitor.”
Arroyo, who also serves as his newspaper’s reporter and photographer, was escorted from the rally by city by police for his protection. An unidentified Hispanic man was also taken from the rally after the incident. Arroyo said that man is also a U.S. citizen.
You can see the video here.
Particularly precious was the backpedaling Hauptmann attempted, at least in public:
- Hauptmann was captured in the video and photographs as she shouted and pointed at the two men. She felt the incident makes her look as though she is “picking on” Hispanics, which she said she was not.
“I am not a hateful human being,” she said. “I just want people to obey the law.”
Sounds just like Lou Dobbs and the rest of the nativists, doesn't it: "We're not against immigrants, just illegal immigrants." Right.
That would explain why Hauptmann then apparently went online and posted the following at Stormfront, the white-supremacist Web site, under the pseud "Haupti" (the comment has apparently been scrubbed, but can be found in Google cache here:
- Hello, fellow SF'rs. I was the screaming blonde in the video. I am shocked and dismayed at the blatant lies and distortions of what happened!!!!!! The uneventful incident lasted all of 2 minutes and we are all turned into evil whites picking on the poor mexcriment! I will laugh one day soon when the mexcriment are stealing from them and driving through their towns waving the mexcriment flag! Coming to a neighborhood near you!"
Nope, Nothin' hateful there, eh?
This, unfortunately, has come to typify the debate over immigration: Haters who just don't want to see brown people living in their formerly all-white towns and neighborhoods, people who fear the loss of white privilege more than anything, use any excuse to attack not merely immigrants, but anyone who disagrees with them, particularly if they are Latino themselves. And the rhetoric gets so hateful that the danger of violence becomes very real.
And then, of course, they proclaim to all within earshot that really, they don't hate immigrants -- just illegal ones.
Fortunately, the Pamela Hauptmanns of the world are, despite appearances, distinctly in the minority. Most Americans, as poll after poll has found, have a much more reasonable view of their new immigrant neighbors, and a far more likely to welcome them than to try to lynch them. But they are uncomfortable with the claims made by the haters -- that these immigrants are taking away jobs, that they're bringing crime, that they're invading and want to return the USA to Mexico. And they're especially susceptible to the notion that the only problem is that these people are coming illegally -- when, as we've seen, the legal status of these immigrants is not really what has these people up in arms.
No one is engaging the other side of the conversation on this: That perhaps the problem with "illegal aliens" is not the "aliens" but rather the dysfunctional law that renders them illegal.
And if we can have that conversation with ordinary Americans, I believe they'll listen.
As for the Pamela Hauptmanns of the world -- well, there isn't much point in even attempting a conversation there. But if the rest of us are talking -- really talking -- then they likely will be forced to retreat back to the fringes where they belong.