Friday, January 18, 2008

Anti-Immigrant Racism at Issue in Presidential Campaign

We are a home steeped in politics. We are also a Jewish family whose lives intertwine with both legal and illegal immigrants.

In observing Republican politics at the moment--which is not always pleasant, to say the least--I keep hearing pledges and promises that sound to me to be, unfortunately--racist. I hear things like Huckabee's vow yesterday that under his presidency, the approximately 12 million illegal immigrants now working among us will be booted out of their jobs and out of the country within 120 days of his oath of office. And never allowed back. Even if they have citizen children; even if they've been here 30 years and own their own homes and businesses and pay taxes and have sent sons and spouses into our military.

I see angry denouncements of people who come here under great peril and duress, leaving their young children and their aging parents because they have no way to make a living. And America has plenty of jobs, enough so they can quickly begin to send their paychecks home.

I've known some of these people. They work hard. They wish with all their hearts that there was a legal way to be here--or, even more, that they didn't have to be here, consulting "abogados" and finding some way to get a green card. If they could have come here to work legally, they would have--but their countries run with bribery and corruption. With bureaucracies that "lose" applications for years on end. I know of a case where a hopeful immigrant was told three times that his application was "missing," but could be found if he paid $2000. Meanwhile, families are starving; there are no jobs.

The anti-immigrant politicos are reacting to a small but vocal fringe. These voters don't like pressing "2 para espanol." They don't like seeing ballots printed in Chinese. They are uncomfortable with foreigners who have different ways; whose idea of a nice Sunday afternoon is a big family picnic in the park; a park now crowded with such families. They feel invaded and threatened.

The positions candidates are taking are not just reactionary but impossible to actualize. Employers from restauranteurs and hoteliers to construction companies and landscapers can't suddenly reach into a waiting pool of workers should the backbone of their support staff disappear. And many illegal immigrants have risen in their fields to positions of authority, and carefully established themselves in ways that conceal their lack of paperwork. Rooting out twelve million people integrated into the fabric of America cannot and will not happen.

We've got plenty of jobs, plenty of space and have accepted these millions over the years with the warm-heartedness that comes naturally to a nation of immigrants. There were no "closed borders" or restrictions on immigration until 1924. And I maintain that fear and prejudice shaped many of the rules and laws that have come since.

I'm worried and sad that such un-American sentiments can influence citizens at this time in our history. But I'm even more distressed that our politicians have listened to them and played along. Because this is the way they'll lose the election, and lose the heart of America.

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