Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This Is Why Republicans Cannot Win On Immigration

I took some grief from a few conservative readers over my Charlie Daniels post in which I make the accusation, repeatedly, that the immigration debate is fueled by racism. I've also been taken to task for my argument that the so-called "Minute Men", vigilantes who have taken it upon themselves to "police" our southern border, are nothing more than fascist Brown Shirts in training. I see a tremendous undercurrent of racism and nativism in the entire debate, and I have no fear of calling the racists in the Republican party on their rhetoric.

Luckily, I generally don't have to wait long before some misguided rightwing fool spouts off and confirms views worse than any of which I've accused them. Case in point, from World Nut Daily (via AmericaBlog):

[Bush] lied when he said: "Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic – it's just not going to work."

Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

Honestly, this made my hair stand up on end just a little bit. Notwithstanding the use of the phrase "to rid themselves of" as a description of the Holocaust, it creeps me out to no end that anyone would make this argument. Once again, the "it can't happen here" crowd would certainly laugh this commentary off as a misguided "joke" or some such. However, listen closely to the rhetoric surrounding the immigration issue and the joke really loses its humor.

First of all, the idea of sending our National Guard to the border, as Bush suggested last night, is a horrendously bad idea. If history has taught anything, it's that involving the military almost certainly leads to violence. That's why we have a military, after all. No matter what Bush may believe, the military's first purpose is not dopey photo ops for unpopular politicians. The Bush administration may claim that the National Guard will be "for support purposes" only on the Mexican border, but the reality is that the tension raised is almost certain to cause problems. Just ask Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr. what can happen when the military gets involved in immigration control. Creating a 2,500-mile militarized zone on our southern border doesn't serve anyone's interests, except those nativist bedwetters who are terrified that their children might hear Spanish in their local public school.

The second part of that quote that is truly terrifying is the nuanced feel of dehumanization attached to it. Most social scientists agree that one key ingredient for a genocide is the dehumanization of the target group. There is much of that kind of talk taking place in this debate. Illegal Mexican immigrants are slowly being stripped of their humanity by rightwing rhetoric, which emboldens trash peddlers like World Nut Daily to unleash the dogs of nativist discontent. Whether mass deportation is possible or not isn't even a really substantive issue anyway. The real issue is what effect such deportation efforts would have on the Mexican-American families living in the U.S. But that sort of thought tends to slip away once the individuality of living, breathing immigrants is replaced by a broad categorization such as "illegals" or "criminals". That slope is oh so slippery, as the German people discovered.

The Nazi quote above aside, it's easy to see why this issue is such a loser for the Republicans. They cannot afford to write-off the entire Latino vote which, with a few exceptions, is largely in favor of liberalized immigration laws. However, they also cannot really afford to abandon their "Southern strategy"; playing to the racists and nativists in the conservative base. A far too vocal chunk of the American people have a gross ignorance and xenophobia about immigration, a fact born out by the quote above. I actually have to say I supported Bush's speech last night, if for no other reason than because he tried once again to find the middle ground on immigration. What he doesn't seem to realize is that, when dealing with the kind of people who support walls and mass deportations, there is no middle ground. Bush either has to embrace the extremists in his party, or break with his base. Good luck with that Devil's choice...

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