Mounting hyperbole and hate speech on immigration in campaign

by Kirk Ross

This county is no more awash in illegals than it was at another time “awash” in Italians, Irish and Germans. If it is awash in anything it’s in racist and dangerous rhetoric contrary to the highest principles on which it was founded.

Occasionally, this column has joined the attempt to inject some simple sanity into the increasingly polarized debate over this country’s policies and attitudes about immigration.

And as the presidential election nears and the hyperbole and the hate speech jacks up, the need for a little clear thinking is waxing.

Credit Marisol Jimnez McGee, advocacy director of El Pueblo, who, with a child due in a little more than a week, recently gave a powerful, laser-sharp analysis of what has become this nation’s key conflict.

It was, in my mind, the single best speech, talk or utterance, I’ve ever seen on the subject and the points she made worth not just of repeating, but ought to be inscribed on a set of handy, wallet-sized cards for anyone looking for how to knock down some of the blunt, extremist arguments you hear cascading into mainstream dialogue.

Speaking in December before an audience of progressive Democrats at Chapel Hill’s Community Church, Jimnez McGee offered an analysis of the new “war of attrition” against immigrants.

Quoting the leaders of this new movement (coming soon to a community college, a social service agency, hospital or an employer near you), Jimnez McGee said that since “loading them up on boxcars” isn’t practical, the idea is to starve them out – to deny the undocumented access not just to social services, but to the basics of our society like a sound education and equal protection.

Such efforts, by tradition, require a bit of “dehumanizing” of the Other, such as a popular online game that allows you to assume the role of a border patrol vigilante shooting drug dealers and/or “breeders” – the icon for such being that of a woman with children in tow.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s push to make local law, police and sheriff’s deputies enforcers of immigration laws pushes people farther into the shadows, making them reluctant to report crimes and allowing criminals in their community to flourish unchecked by the safeguards enjoyed by the rest of us.

The system is broken, Jimnez McGee said plainly, but it won’t self correct.

The way the laws are crafted now someone who’s been here and wants to “get legal” would have to return to their country and get in a line roughly 12 to 15 years long.

And now that the federal government has decided to simply walk away from immigration reform, state legislature that had been on hold while waiting for the feds will cut lose. It is, after all, an election year.

Like the civil rights movement of the last century, which by necessity is still, well, necessary, resolving the moral issues legal issues around immigration won’t wait for politicians, business leaders and polite society to work things out. Like the civil rights struggle, law and economics and the basic guarantees of human rights are in profound disagreement. Just as it was under Jim Crow, an underclass has been created, one full of individuals who are only permitted limited participation in society and are disenfranchised politically just as hardily as they are exploited economically.

This era, probably this election cycle, marks a turning point for our political parties and institutions.

For the Republicans, this is the party’s Voortrekker moment, its wagons circling as it embraces an apartheid that would institutionalize the underclass for the sake of their friends in the corporate class. Like apartheid it comes at a heavy price for both the dignity of the oppressed and the soul of the oppressor.

For the Democrats, this is a pivotal moment. Buying into the rhetoric, even a bit, means turning the party’s back on its social justice past and returning to deeper into its history – to its darkest days. This is not, as one party official recently opined “a second term issue for a Democratic president.” There’s war on. And its time is now.

(Note: Audio excerpts of Jimnez McGee’s speech are available at