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Stop Racist Hate in Immigration Debate

Glenn Hutchinson • Apr 02, 2010

We need to stop the racist rhetoric coded in the immigration debate.

Did you see the latest from conservative George Will? In his recent syndicated column, he argues that not all children born on American soil are really citizens. For example, if the parents are undocumented, then their baby born in the U.S.A. shouldn’t be a citizen. Will seems particularly concerned about “illegal immigrant mothers” who are giving birth in public hospitals in Los Angeles.

When I was sitting in history class in school, one thing my teachers kept telling me was how unique our country was. We are a nation of immigrants. Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!

I don’t remember my teachers telling me that it mattered who the masses’ parents were.

In fact, people coming from Europe often were escaping societies that focused too much on ancestry. In the United States, you can pursue the American Dream, no matter who your parents are.

Of course, we do have laws that regulate immigration, and we are in the middle of a debate about comprehensive immigration reform. But why should we punish the children for the decisions their parents made? If a child was born in this country, why should she have fewer legal rights just because of her ancestry?

That kind of thinking sounds like racism to me.

This argument about who should be citizens connects with many people’s concern that the complexion of America is changing. They seem to be stressed that someday soon, by the year 2050, there will be no clear ethnic/racial majority in our country. They are worried that more and more babies of color are being born and growing up as citizens in the United States.

It reminds me of the crazy talk at the recent Tea Party convention when Rep. Tancredo (R-Colo.) said that the reason Pres. Obama was elected was because of failed policies to regulate who votes. He said that Obama supporters were “people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English.” Then they even raised questions about Pres. Obama’s citizenship. Some extreme groups seem obsessed with the question about whether someone is really a citizen or not.

I find these discussions about citizenship to be coded racism. If you are not white, then your citizenship seems to be in question.

But in the United States, we are better than that.

One of Will’s main arguments is that the writers of the 14th amendment to the Constitution did not consider the problem of illegal immigration “because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.”

How might some American Indians and others respond to this statement?

Consider the Trail of Tears (1838-39) when thousands of Cherokee Indians died as Pres. Jackson moved them from their land. For some, maybe the white settlers (USA citizens) were the original illegal immigrants.

Yes, let’s invite different points of view into the immigration debate, but let’s keep out hate.

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