Like many Americans, nothing makes me happier than arguing about emotionally loaded, extremely volatile political issues that have no clear solutions. Yes, that’s why I write about immigration so much.
However, I now realize that I haven’t been fair. I’ve simply assumed that racism — directed toward Latinos — is a primary motivating factor in the debate. But is this true?
Well, conservative commentators such as Dennis Prager insist that I, and millions of other Latinos, have been suckered. In a recent column, Prager said, “Americans’ worries about illegal immigration have nothing to do with ‘racism’ or any negative feeling toward Hispanics.”
Now, I’m sure Prager is sincere. But he is giving his fellow conservatives way too much credit.
No doubt, plenty of Republicans have legitimate objections to illegal immigration that have nothing to do with race. But to say, as Prager does, that “the vast majority of us could not care less if your name is Gonzalez or Jones” is to deny reality.
It was not liberals who ran commercials depicting Latinos as menacing thugs, or made jokes about shooting undocumented people like vermin, or called Latinos “locusts,” or… well, you get the picture. The point is that conservatives did all that (and more) by themselves, unprompted.
Still, this is anecdotal evidence. Do we have anything a bit more concrete that ties racism to the immigration debate?
Well, Mother Jones recently reported that a majority of our favorite group, the Tea Party, believes “that newcomers from other countries threaten traditional American customs and values.” Furthermore, a whopping 72 percent think we “should deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries,” despite the fact that this would probably lead to economic chaos.
Another study showed that “racial resentment” was second only to “conservative ideology” when it came to the motivations of Tea Party members. And yet Prager would have us believe that their views on immigration are not influenced by even a hint of bigotry.
Let’s give credit to Prager for a couple of things, however. His attempt to speak directly to Latinos is rare for a conservative. More often, they’re busy riling up their base by speaking about Latinos. And his column is free of vitriol and even makes an attempt (however awkward) to see things from the perspective of an undocumented person.
But ultimately, Prager’s column appears to be a conservative’s uncomfortable epiphany. He knows that the disappointment many Latinos feel for the Democrats is no match for the hostility they harbor for the GOP. Prager is trying to undo the damage, stating that the allegation of rampant bigotry in the GOP “is a terrible lie. Please don’t believe it. You know it is not true.”
This shameless, rather pathetic pleading is what the conservative approach to Latinos and immigration has been reduced to. Rather than attempting to clean up the racism that infects their movement, conservatives are now trying to insist that this prejudice doesn’t exist at all.
I’m sorry if I don’t quite buy it.