Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tancredo: Immigrants' speech is irrelevent.

Tom Tancredo has declared that yesterday's immigrant boycotts will have no effect. Considering the source, that assessment is no great surprise. Tancredo is a nutcase with a following. He's a Colorado congressman who's running for president in 2008 on an anti-immigrant platform. He probably has no illusions that he could win, but no doubt he's looking to raise his own profile and highlight the anti-immigrant sentiment in the Republican Party. I can see Tancredo making a Senate bid in 2010 against Colorado's Democratic Senator Ken Salazar, who was just elected in 2004. (Salazar's name is unmistakably Spanish, and as a result he and his brother, Representative John Salazar (D-Colorado), get plenty of go-back-to-your-own-country mail—never mind the fact that the Salazar family has been in Colorado for at least five generations.)

I don't think crackpot Tancredo has a leg to stand on about the protests. A single day of protest is unlikely to change policy, but that single day is indicative of an attempt, of a movement. There were plenty of immigrants who didn't march, and there are plenty of people sympathetic to the marchers who aren't immigrants who didn't march, either. I'm one of those people. This march represents those who took part in it plus many who didn't take part in it. It lets politicians know that there's a lot of people out there who are concerned about this issue, and who will speak out about it, and who will possibly vote about it. If all the protesters stayed home, it would be more likely that anti-immigrant sentiment would dominate the political debate more than it would otherwise, and let the immigrant-bashers have more sway over who gets elected during the midterm elections this November. Anti-immigrant sentiment will still be on the ballot, but with an energized immigrant community out there, politicians will be more hesitant to rail against them. After all, you can gripe about the "illegals" all you want, but the fact is that the legal immigrants are upset by this. And these days, it's increasingly difficult to tell the difference between those who are concerned about the propriety of immigration protocols and those who just want all the non-white non-Protestants to assume their mantle as second-class citizens.

I'm personally opposed to illegal immigration, myself, but blaming these immigrants for the problem is the wrong way to go about addressing the problem. If you've got eleven million people breaking a particular law, it's safe to say your system is broken somehow. Declaring eleven million people felons and driving them out of the country is a ridiculous notion, particularly in light of the fact that there are lots of businesses that continue to knowingly hire undocumented workers and pay them starvation wages to work long hours in dangerous conditions. As long as those jobs are there, as long as employers continue to hire undocumented aliens, they're going to keep on coming. If anyone really wanted to do something about this, they'd stop things at the source, which means punishing employers rather than building a 2,000 mile wall along the Mexican border and posting armed guards all along it (after we've packed truckloads of undocumented Hispanics and Chinese across that Mexican border, of course.)

Tancredo has a vested interest in believing that there will be a backlash against the protest, against Hispanics. He's counting on it, in fact. That's why he compared the protests to the crowds celebrating a football win. That comment stinks of desperation. The Broncos' Super Bowl win isn't a movement; if Tancredo can't tell the difference, then he's in serious trouble. Maybe a better analogy would be how anti-Iraq War protesters drastically outnumbered the pro-Iraq War protesters on February 15, 2003, but we went to war, anyway. There are problems with that analogy, too, but my point is that not all demonstrations are the same, and dismissing them out of hand doesn't render them irrelevent, necessarily.

Tancredo's crazy. I have a suspicion that the glee of the conservative base is going to carry this hatred of immigrants too far. Bashing those who translate "The Star-Spangled Banner" into Spanish? That's going overboard, and a sign of things to come. But the Republicans have made good use of energized bigots before. The best hope of stopping them lies with the Hispanic community—the ones who are here legally, who can turn out to vote. If they get themselves politically active and turn out to vote in significant numbers this November, the bigots' movement will be blunted. Tom Tancredo will never be president, but one thing I'm sure of is that he'll succeed at further radicalizing the Republican Party. Whether this bigoted populism translates into energizing the Republican Party remains to be seen. This is similar to their anti-gay strategy of 2004, but there are many more Hispanics than there are gays, so the reaction will be louder this time. If the Hispanics keep speaking up, it could backfire—but maybe it won't. It looks like the Republicans are getting to paint themselves as the anti-immigrant party, while the Democrats (so far) are avoiding the tag of the pro-illigal immigrant party. If they can keep that status quo, this will only hurt the Republicans.

Amnesty, by the way, worked once before. In the 1980s, President Reagan gave amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, turning them into taxpayers and Republican voters—except for the ones who knew they'd lose their sub-minimum wage jobs if they became citizens. I expect things would be much the same these days if amnesty were granted, except that there are many more undocumented aliens than there were twenty years ago, and they'd be far less inclined to vote Republican, especially considering the Republican Party's attitude toward them. Mexico's President Fox opposes amnesty for Mexicans in America because it would mean less money sent back to Mexico, since formerly-undocumented immigrants would be paying taxes, paying bills and making a life north of the border—thus sending less money south.

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