Yup, Illegal Immigration is the Hot Button Issue

Promising to crack down on illegal immigration, House Speaker William Howell and other senior Republicans announced a series of reforms two days ago such as ending in-state tuition rates for illegals at public colleges. Not rounding up the illegals and sending them home, mind you. Not denying them admittance to public universities. Just denying them the in-state rate reserved for legal residents of Virginia.

None of the House proposals struck me as “over the top.” (Read yesterday’s post here.) Of course, that may be because I’m one of those awful, bigoted “white males” the House leadership and Jerry Kilgore are pandering to in the hopes of motivating me to vote for Kilgore in the gubernatorial election.

Read the responses to my post. They’re more interesting than the post itself. What strikes me is that there is little effort to argue against the merits of the proposals themselves. The criticism of the House initiative varies in tenor but follows a common theme: The crackdown on illegal immigrants (illegal, mind you, not legal immigrants) is a nativist, if not downright racist, election gambit to rile up the white bubbas against the brown-skinned newcomers and get them to the polls on Tuesday.

Assuredly, there is an element of political calculation in the Kilgore campaign. Republicans have this funny thing about “law and order,” and Kilgore is appealing to it. But I have seen no evidence to suggest that the appeal of the illegal-immigration issue is an ethnic or racial one. If someone can present me evidence, then I will be all ears. But who needs evidence? Among many people, there is simply the presumption of racism. No evidence needed. Guilty until proven innocent, racist until proven otherwise.

The evidence that exists indicates that ethnicity and race are not behind the House legislative initiative. Speaker Howell couldn’t have been more clear in his speech in Springfield the other day: The issue is the rule of law, not ethnicity, race or immigration. “We are a nation of immigrants and better for it,” he said. “Our national character is not centered around any one religious denomination. Neither is it based upon any one ethnic group our race.” I could go on, as he did, but you get the message.

What the “racism, racism, racism” trope tells me is that those opposed to the Republican initiatives have nothing constructive to say on the subject. By labeling Republicans as nativists, racists and hypocrites, they are saying, in essence, that the Republican position is entirely irrational and that the problem of illegal immigration is a fabricated one. Yet that position is untenable. Even Tim Kaine concedes that illegal immigration is a problem. He just doesn’t want to do anything about it. He blames the federal government, and says the feds should solve it.

But illegal immigration is a unavoidably a state/local problem when illegal immigrants apply for food stamps, seek medical care and attend overcrowded, fiscally stressed schools. These problems cannot be fobbed onto the federal government. The problems are inherently local, and they’re real. They aren’t racist fantasies. And Virginia has to find a way to deal with them.

I don’t pretend to know the answers — the issues are complex. Illegal immigrants are embedded in our society, and they do play a significant role in our economy. I know a lot of immigrants, some of them probably illegal. Once you get to know someone as a person — with hopes and fears, children to care for, out-of-work relatives back in the old country, elderly parents who can’t afford health care — it’s hard to take the attitude, “ship ’em back home!” I’m not saying that the House came up with the right answers, but I do think they are tackling important issues — and I think it’s wrong to stigmatize those who would try to address those issues by characterizing them as racists.


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8 responses to “Yup, Illegal Immigration is the Hot Button Issue”

  1. subpatre Avatar

    Jim, two additional points. The first is that every political stripe acknowleges that illegal aliens are a problem. There’s disagreement over the scope and severity of the problem, but illegal Latinos –the ethnic group we’re talking about– create governance problems ranging from tax evasion and welfare fraud to public health challenges.

    Even the Liberterian position that accepts open borders admit uncontrolled amounts of immigration will irreparably change America’s political culture. Massive populations unused to participatory democracy come here solely for high wages; they’re perfectly willing to accept corrupt, authoritarian rule.

    Like any group, our population is influenced by all of those present. Whether it’s fiscal, cultural or political; illegal immigration is shifting our nation. America once had a high voluntary tax compliance rate; now businesses routinely collaborate with tax-evading illegals.

    So illegal immigrants present problems and nobody –but nobody– has done a thing about it. This initiative may be right or wrong, but its critics are engaged in hypocritical finger-pointing because they have no solutions.

    A curious facet to the ‘racism’ charge is that if illegal immigration is dealt with, the remaining Latinos are –by definition– legal. [Save the “duh” comments]

    If the critics that claim this is racially motivated are correct, then it’s self-defeating. When only legal immigrants remain, racism against Latinos cannot be covered with rhetoric about “illegal immigrants”.

    The best strategy for those who think this is about racism is to promote the initiative. Perhaps its just my cynicism, but I don’t expect that to happen, since people without any ideas of their own need something to mask that void.

    This initiative is an example of real leadership, complete with political risk, of tackling a complex problem effecting Virginians.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    “What the “racism, racism, racism” trope tells me is that those opposed to the Republican initiatives have nothing constructive to say on the subject.”

    Oh whatever. I don’t even think the proposals are all necessarily bad ideas (tougher laws on stuff that’s already mostly against the law, rah!). It’s just that they are patently political ideas crafted to appeal to votes, not policy ideas crafted to solve problems, launched at _exactly_ the wrong time to have a complex and important debate (especially in one of the nastiest political seasons of recent memory). This “I propose higher penalties than thou, therefore thou care not a whit!” one-upmanship is not an adult way to discuss a complex issue.

    All anyone said to you was: if you want to have this debate, don’t start off by excusing and apologizing for the politics. Either leave the politics out of it so people can have the debate on its own merits, or acknowledge that the nativism is a key part of politics instead of trying to pretend that it isn’t. Don’t get all high and mighty about how you and only you truly value law and order. You brought it up the politics first.

    “Look, illegal immigrants, we suppose cus they’re Latino, near some signs of a candidate we don’t like!”
    http://tooconservative.blogspot.com/2005/10/irony-of-it-all.html

    “By labeling Republicans as nativists, racists and hypocrites, they are saying, in essence, that the Republican position is entirely irrational and that the problem of illegal immigration is a fabricated one.”

    No, no one is saying that, but hey, if you want to conduct a policy debate by smearing the positions of others, then that’s the sort of person you choose to be.

    “Yet that position is untenable. Even Tim Kaine concedes that illegal immigration is a problem. He just doesn’t want to do anything about it. He blames the federal government, and says the feds should solve it.”

    Tim Kaine has actually supported more funds to hire more police officers, instead of just talking about how cool “law and order” is (you can be tough on crime or cheap on crime, but you can’t really be both: getting rid of parole was expensive progress, not a magic solution that happened because someone held a press conference). He’s said that cracking down on businesses that employ illegals are the core of the problem, which is probably correct. He doesn’t support handing away state services to any illegals that ask in every case, unlike what Kilgore’s camp claims, but turning people away from emergency rooms and taxpaying kids born in the states from schools is a prescription for social disaster. And he didn’t think that making the town of Herndon into a campaign whipping boy, misleading the public about their opinions and actions, was in good faith. Did you? Do you?

    So, Tim Kaine proposes doing nothing about checking ID in order to get benefits? That’s funny. I could have sworn we already passed a bill, going into effect this Januauary, that required just that and he supported it (as did Kilgore). Or barring immigrants from getting state IDs altogether. And so on. But now that you’ve taken partisan sides, suddendly he doesn’t want to do anyyyyyyything.

  3. subpatre Avatar

    10:18 AM, Anonymous said “Tim Kaine has actually supported more funds to hire more police officers…

    That’s not true. Tim Kaine supported more funds. Period. Maybe he wants some for police, but the funding wasn’t for that. As of today, the Comp Board’s formulationsfor law enforcement is the same as it’s been. No more, no less.

    Continually refering to the record-breaking tax rip-off as “funding for more police” (or “for seniors”, etc) is a deliberate calculated lie. Nothing’s gone to these.

    The issue isn’t law enforcement staffing, it’s whether we as a nation or state put a stop to the erosion of our security, our tax system, etc. Kaine might say that “ cracking down on businesses that employ illegals” is the core of the problem, but he hasn’t proposed anything. If that’s what he believes, where’s his leadership?

    …getting rid of parole was expensive progress, not a magic solution that happened because someone held a press conference
    How quickly you forget. Parole reform only happened because someone –George Allen– made it a talking point. The Democrats claimed it’d overload the prisons, now Virginia’s renting its jail space out to other states. As a law enforcement and social justice matter, it literally was a magic solution.

    No, no one is saying that [labeling Republicans as nativists, racists], but hey, if you want to conduct a policy debate by smearing the positions of others…
    That’s exactly what the Kaine camp is doing. One only has to look at the comments to see the long, long litany of racism charges. But hey, if that’s all you’ve got….

  4. While it would be ideal to erase borders between countries, that would be impractical without reciprocity between nations. We seek that reciprocity as a practical goal. While we recognize that there must be some controls on immigration, if only for the sake of national security, the Green Party would endorse a friendlier (less intimidating) attitude towards immigration in all nations within certain guidelines.

    The Green Party must consider immigration issues from an international standpoint, taking into account international labor and environmental standards, and human rights.

    1. Preferential quotas based on race, class, and ideology should be abandoned for immigration policies that promote fairness, non-discrimination and family reunification.

    2. We support policies that reflect our constitutional guarantees of freedoms of speech, association, and travel.

    3. Particular attention should be given to those minorities who are political exiles and refugees.

    4. Our relationship with our neighbor to the south, Mexico, needs to be given added attention due to the special historical and cultural relation it has with the southwest portion of the United States. Our border relations and reciprocal economic opportunities should be a central concern of a government that is looking to improved economic, environmental, and social conditions for both peoples.

    5. The Green Party calls for permanent border passes to all citizens of Mexico and Canada whose identity can be traced and verified. Work permits for citizens of Mexico and Canada must be easily obtainable, thereby decriminalizing the act of gainful employment. This action would help eliminate exploitation of undocumented persons by criminals engaged in human contraband (coyotes) and unethical employers. It would also help ensure that taxes will be paid in each corresponding nation per its laws. These measures will also help temporary residents from Mexico and Canada to secure driving privileges and liability insurance.

    6. Labor laws must be adjusted to take into account seasonal foreign workers. Employers must provide full rights to wages and health benefits to immigrant workers who make voluntary contributions to pension plans and pay Social Security taxes.

    7. We advocate an end to employer sanctions, which have been shown to hurt not only undocumented workers but also U.S.-born workers (especially those of color). A fair and equitable legalization program will provide equal access to working people of all nationalities, not tied to a specific employer or guest worker program. Programs involving temporary worker status must include the option of permanent residency for immigrants already in the U.S. and protection of migrant worker savings.

    8. Greens oppose “English-only” legislation. We would advocate legislation to ensure that federal funds marked for communities to provide ESL (english as second language) training, and health and social support services to immigrants actually go to them. When funds are spent in other areas, immigrants are being deprived of benefits that they earn as productive workers in their communities.

    9. We oppose the use of racial profiling. We are concerned about reports of illegal raids and traffic stops based on ethnic appearance and not probable cause of a traffic violation. We would further advocate funding or education programs designed to reduce racism and bias against ethnic minorities. [See section A. 2. Racial Discrimination in this chapter]

    10. We advocate adoption of certification standards for translators.

    11. We oppose those who seek to divide us for political gain by raising ethnic and racial hatreds, and by blaming immigrants for social and economic problems.

  5. Shaun Kenney Avatar
    Shaun Kenney

    Jim,

    I offered a rebuttal to Speaker Howell’s initiative:

    Two Cents on Illegal Immigration

    Hope that offers some thought on the subject.

    Regards,

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    I am the descendant of immigrants who settled in Virginia in the 1700s and whose progeny have lived here ever since.

    Current federal immigration policy is completely screwed up. There has to be a middle ground, but it seems out of reach given the current climate.

    Some states/localities are overwhelmed with the costs of serving illegal and undocumented immigration, to be sure. Others are in dire need of the additional labor force. But Congress has so hopelessly bollixed this up that there simply is no coherent national strategy other than non-enforcement. That leaves communities like Herndon in a bad spot.

    Employers in need of labor, as well as day laborers, domestic workers, IT workers, and many other categories of foreign nationals seeking employment, are caught in a complex web of laws. Nativism drives votes and laws. Business loses out. Children of illegals and undocumenteds are punished because of their parents’ actions. None of this strikes me as reasonable, equitable, or pro-business.

    And those who drive the anti- debate are truly not serving the needs of business in Virginia.

    Just my opinion.

  7. AWCheney Avatar

    We are in this currently “screwed up” situation with regard to immigration because our leaders have been loathe to adequately fund the enforcement of existing laws. As a consequence, illegal immigrants have flooded into the country with virtual impunity to the point where a groundswell of public outcry has led to the debate of what to do with the illegal aliens rather than the debate that should be taking place: How can we equitably update our immigration laws to properly imbrace an “open arms” policy within the ability of our nation to adequately handle the influx of people who want, and need, to come to this country. The people who have, and will, ultimately suffer for this, if you’ll pardon the expression, ass-backward thinking are the immigrants themselves, both legal and illegal. (I say the legal aliens because they and their families are no doubt suffering, and will increasingly suffer, a backlash from the enormous problems that all this has created.)

    This is not fair, but I believe it to be a realistic assumption. Debate on the issue of immigration is long overdue but can’t happen until we solve the immediate problems that have been created by our collective apathy.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Just one note:

    “and I think it’s wrong to stigmatize those who would try to address those issues by characterizing them as racists.”

    I may be wrong, but i don’t think anyone here was under the impression the the motivation for these laws was personal racist beleifs on the part of our elected officials. Rather, the timing of them was meant to GOTV among the racist elements already existing in Virginia society. That doesn’t reflect racism on the part of our lawmakers, but rather shrewd (or conniving depending on your viewpoint) politcs.

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