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Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2007 Watching the leading Republican candidates for president outdo each other over who is more anti-immigrant, the word hypocrisy comes to mind. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind about something (“When the facts change,” said John Maynard Keynes, “I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”). But the facts on U.S. immigration haven’t changed in years.
Political desperation leads to savagery, and we’re seeing it on the Republican campaign trail. It’s as though they’re so far behind they have to be outrageous just to get attention — like Mitt Romney’s wanting to “double the size of Gauntanamo” or Rudy Giuliani comparing the Iraq war to “reducing crime in New York City.” Doesn’t Romney know that the Supreme Court has ruled twice against Bush actions at Guantánamo and that another ruling is pending? If Giuliani can’t see the difference between policing a city and a foreign invasion and occupation, what kind of president would he make?
Few things, however, approach the Republican venom being spilt over immigration, which polarizes the nation, makes solutions more difficult and feeds a climate of hate and recrimination. Watch Univision’s Spanish-language coverage of immigration issues — including last week’s debate among the GOP candidates — and you understand why Hispanic support for Republicans is down to 23 percent.
Take the case of the mauled Honduran gardener in Princeton, N.J.
The man, Giovanni Rivera, was hired by a Hummer-driving Princeton matron to do work on her estate. He spent five days in a hospital, underwent a three-hour operation and received 65 rabies shots after being attacked by one of the lady’s five dogs. The lady’s insurance paid him off, but letters to newspapers and blogs, full of racial and xenophobic slurs, have sided with the dog, whom a judge has ordered put down.
“The dog deserves an award,” wrote one enlightened compatriot. “One less Mexican (sic) alien is a boost to society.”
In their lust to win the nativist vote, Romney and Giuliani and now Mike Huckabee forget three things: past, present and future. They were not anti-immigrant in the past; should they win the nomination, the redneck vote won’t gain them the presidency, and fences and deportations aren’t a solution to 12 million illegal immigrants.
Take Giuliani, for example.
Searching the archives of my former employer, I came across a column of mine from June 20, 1994. The occasion was Gov. Pete Wilson’s campaign for president, using California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 (later ruled unconstitutional) as a platform. Giuliani was mayor of New York City at the time. Here’s what I wrote:
“I don’t say California can adopt the same cavalier attitude as New York, which officially welcomes illegal immigrants. New York, with 510,000 illegal immigrants, is second to California, with 1.6 million (both are INS figures), but there are two reasons they are welcomed in New York.
First, New York’s largest illegal immigrant group is Italians, and New York’s leading political figures are Italian-Americans. ‘If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status,’ said New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani this month, ‘you’re one of the people we want in this city.’”
The New York Times said of those comments: “The mayor is virtually urging illegal immigrants to settle in NYC.”
Romney is welcome to the quote, the rest of which goes: “You’re somebody we want to protect, and we want you to get out from under what is often like the life of a fugitive.” (Interestingly, Romney’s anti-immigrant campaign now faces the same problem that doomed Pete Wilson: He has employed illegal immigrants.)
Here is what Giuliani says today (from a political ad he approved): “People that come in illegally we gotta stop. You stop illegal immigration by building a fence. Then you hire enough Border Patrol so they can respond. And then if anybody becomes a citizen we should make certain that they can read English, write English and speak English because this is an English-speaking country.”
By those standards, Giuliani’s grandparents, immigrants from Italy, wouldn’t have been admitted to the country.
If fences worked we wouldn’t have 12 million illegal immigrants in the nation, roughly two million more than in 1994. Over the past decade, annual immigration, legal and illegal, has been at its highest point since the “Great Migration” of 1900-1920. The foreign-born U.S. population hasn’t been higher since 1920.
A century ago our big empty country had opened its doors to immigration as we set out to settle the West and build a national industry. U.S. population in 1900 was 76 million. California’s population was 1.4 million (there were more people in Alaska than in the Golden State). We sought people from across Europe and left open the border with Mexico (population 13.6 million). Only Asians were barred from America under the infamous Asian Exclusion Act, passed after Congress deemed too many Chinese had been brought in to build the railroads.
A century later, there simply is no excuse for 1.1 million legal and an estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants arriving in this country annually. Polls show two-thirds of Americans want legal immigration reduced and illegal immigration halted. Controlling immigration has been the recommended goal of every important study of the subject done over the past generation (Hesburgh and Jordan presidential commissions, National Academy of Sciences, General Accounting Office, National Research Council, RAND’s Center for Research on Immigration Policy).
The hypocrisy of Giuliani and Romney (and open racism of marginal candidates like Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo) won’t help the nation achieve the kind of bi-partisan consensus it needs to overcome powerful pro-immigration lobbies. Congress can only solve the problem by adopting some of the measures recommended by the above expert groups — above all, an identification system that allows employers to know who is legal and who isn’t, with appropriate stiff penalties for hiring illegal workers.
In power now for a wasted seven years, the Bush Administration has achieved nothing. Early on, when Bush still had some political capital to spend, there was a chance for a bi-partisan agreement on immigration, but Iraq and now the presidential campaign have destroyed any chance for legislation.
We’ll have another chance when Bush is gone, but fences and expulsions aren’t the solution. By courting the redneck vote, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee show that, as president, they would achieve no more than Bush.
James O. Goldsborough has written on foreign affairs for four decades, both from the United States and abroad, where he worked as a foreign correspondent for The New York Herald Tribune, International Herald Tribune and Newsweek magazine for 14 years, reporting from more than 40 countries. Visit his website here. Submit a letter to the editor here.