Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The base line

Anti-illegal immigration activists keep insisting that there's nothing the least racist about their efforts to crack down on the problem. It's only illegal immigration they oppose. Really. It has nothing to do with race or ethnicity.

So maybe they can explain why, in Denver, anti-illegal immigration activists have mounted a protest against the city librarian because the library has (gasp!) expanded its collection by adding large numbers of Spanish-language books, including, evidently, some with racy pictures inside.

This elicited the following response from one of the protest organizers:
"You always hear they want to come and work," said Robert Copley of the Colorado Minuteman Project. "Well, they also want to come and kill, and destroy wages, and just demean our quality of life."

It's pretty clear Mr. Copley's concern is not with illegal immigration -- though we're sure he can rhapsodize at length on that subject as well -- as it is with Latino immigration. And it's kind of funny how that theme keeps cropping up a lot.

Again, none of this is surprising. I've argued consistently that people who think the solution is to harass immigrants who come here illegally are, almost without exception, concerned more with the racial (and cultural) aspects of the current immigrant wave than they are about, say, the war on terror (though they sound that theme frequently enough) or the fact that most of these immigrants are here illegally.

It may seem that the two are not logically connected, but when you think about it a bit, they are.

Illegal immigration is a serious problem, not least for its effects in spreading a Wal-Mart economy to the working classes, as well as the way it depresses wages. It requires serious and thoughtful solutions that change the framework of how we deal with both the nuances and the fundamentals of the problem. Blaming desperate Mexicans -- millions of whom have been thrown out of work and off their lands because of NAFTA -- for wanting to come here for jobs is not going to solve anything.

But that's exactly what the Minutemen and their ilk are proposing to do: Harass illegal migrants as they cross the border. This has also created a predictable spate of freelance Minutemen conducting their own version of a border watch. (In two recent cases this escalated to someone shooting a couple of Latinos.)

It's called scapegoating, and it is the hallmark of American right-wing extremism. The paranoid mindset always insists on a scapegoat: Jews. Blacks. Mexicans. Gays. In the 1920s, it was Catholics. They always insist that someone is conspiring to bring harm to them and to America. They describe them as vermin, and urge their elimination. It is a story that has repeated itself many times.

This is why, when you hear someone talk about organizing a border watch, you can bet that, if you hang around their campfires long enough, you'll start hearing a lot of talk about Latinos. How they're ruining the country. Causing crime. Crowding the hospitals. Pretty soon the usual slurs come out too.

It isn't about whether they're legal or not. It is, in the end, all about the color of their skin.

No comments: