The relentlessly harsh Republican campaign against immigrants has always hidden a streak of racialist extremism. Now after several high-water years, the Republican tide has gone out, leaving exposed the nativism of fringe right-wingers clinging to what they hope will be a wedge issue.Uh huh. We've been doing posts here for some time arguing that, once you clear away the fog of the various kinds of weak arguments advanced by anti-immigration folks, you're left with very little other than racism. That tends to be the case worldwide - Bosnians and Serbs, Koreans and Japanese, French and Algerians, humans and cylons. There's nothing new there. But it is a pervasive reaction perhaps especially because immigrants - unknown strangers who are a different color than "us," have strange religious and cultural practices, and speak incomprehensible languages - are such an easy, painless target for provincialists who view moral responsibility and empathy as things that fall away once the other people are out of sight (and I think this has much more profound implications than dealing with the "other").
At best, arguments regarding immigration are debates about differential treatment and the nature of citizenship, the nature of the state and nationality, and the future of human socio-political organization in the face of transnational problems of all sorts. But the anti-immigrant positions in the US boil down to racism. That's the reality.
You could take a look at any of Barba's many posts written from the militarizing borderlands of Texas/Mexico (search blog: "immigration"). But I want to direct to you one in particular. Barba:
Talking and writing about migrants has become tricky: what leads people to feel angry about immigrants in America -- for as long as we have had what is presently characterized as a “national debate” (nothing about popular and popularly-accessible discourse about immigration can really be called a “debate,” can it?) -- what seems to anger people, or to scare them, about migrants is difference. Am I wrong about this? People make all kinds of claims that sound logical: immigrants take jobs from Americans, they are a strain on health care and educational systems, they drive like crazy lunatics. The closest people will come to articulating their fear of the less-than-white Other from the South is to claim that their value systems are incompatible with American democracy, that folks capable of making two-thousand-mile continental journeys -- trips totally unimaginable, I think, for most Americans, in their sordidness and difficulty and even in their natural and human landscapes -- sustained by little more than faith in the Virgin cannot possibly be expected to understand the rich heritage of civil democracy in our country, cannot really be expected to “contribute.” Setting aside the degree to which the majority of Americans themselves fail to “contribute” (and ignoring the absurd reality that we congratulate one another for casting votes and behave as though this constitutes contribution), this concern strikes me as most worth discussion. Even (especially?) if it amounts to little more than veiled fear: it could only help all of us to talk a little more plainly about what it means to be a citizen, to take that discussion beyond simplistic claims in which taxes buy things like “education” for people like “our children.” I admit that imagining that our putative debate could ever become a discussion is crazy optimism.And Helmut, who insists on wanting to know the real nature of the so-called "immigration problem" as a problem:
I've been thinking about why immigration is such an important subject especially for conservatives. Living in DC one doesn't get a good sense of what drives the concern. I was in Texas last May, however, and asked about the immigration issue. It's a more salient issue there and has been as long as I can remember.Well, apparently, now they are, notes the Times editorial:
Running through and rejecting the standard arguments and claims (taking away American jobs, not paying taxes, being a drain on the healthcare system, etc.), which we know don't hold up, I would find that the Texas conservatives I talked to ended up mostly saying something vague along the lines of this: "well, we are here legally; and they ought to be here legally too." Of course, a response could then be to ask why amnesty - legalizing undocumented immigrants already in the US - isn't an option if legal status is the foundational concern. This then gets the whole cycle through the other claims/arguments going again. I wondered aloud, perhaps unfortunately even if in Socratic fashion, if racism isn't at the heart of the issue. Of course, few people are going to overtly argue that.
Last week at the National Press Club in Washington, a group seeking to speak for the future of the Republican Party declared that its November defeats in Congressional races stemmed not from having been too hard on foreigners, but too soft.The Times concludes with the generic proposal that we ought to be more vigilant about racism, especially in times of economic downturn. That's right. But I think we can go further and say that the "immigrant problem" is nothing other than the problem of racism in the US (and elsewhere, of course). That's the pernicious ongoing problem.
The group, the American Cause, released a report arguing that anti-immigration absolutism was still the solution for the party’s deep electoral woes, actual voting results notwithstanding. Rather than “pander to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” as President Bush and Karl Rove once tried to do, the report’s author, Marcus Epstein, urged Republicans to double down on their efforts to run on schemes to seal the border and drive immigrants out...
What was perhaps more notable than the report itself was the team that delivered it. It included Bay Buchanan, former adviser to Representative Tom Tancredo and sister of Pat, who founded the American Cause and wrote “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.” She was joined by James Pinkerton, an essayist and Fox News contributor who, as an aide to the first President Bush, took credit for the racist Willie Horton ads run against Michael Dukakis.
So far, so foul. But even more telling was the presence of Peter Brimelow, a former Forbes editor and founder of Vdare.com, an extremist anti-immigration Web site. It is named for Virginia Dare, the first white baby born in the English colonies, which tells you most of what you need to know. The site is worth a visit. There you can read Mr. Brimelow’s and Mr. Buchanan’s musings about racial dilution and the perils facing white people, and gems like this from Mr. Epstein:
“Diversity can be good in moderation — if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don’t mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers — as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture.”
The question becomes whether, in the case of the US, the right manages to turn the American reality of diversity into a fantasy of white Christian ownership of the nation. Such a nation would set up landmark and selective historical moments, imbued with nationalistic oogedy-boogedy magic, as the sole truth of the nation; not the profound strain of experimentalism and pluralism in its thought and spirit, in the deepest thoughts of the founding fathers in their best moments, in its philosophical lineage and evolution, and in the very best of its culture. I mean, really, what has a white supremacist done for any of us lately?