Archive for the ‘immigration’ Tag

Love in the time of Terror Babies

“My parents, with admirable foresight, had their first child while they were on fellowships in the United States. My mother was in public health, and my father in a library-science program. Having an American baby was, my mother once said, like putting money in the bank.”

So begins Daniel Alarcón’s recently published short story “Second Lives,” whose narrator is a Latin American man with a potent longing for a First World life. His dream has eluded him; he realizes he is doomed to a “terminal condition” of Third World citizenship, despite that his older brother — the one lucky to be born on U.S. soil — had seized the opportunity to emigrate many years prior.

Alarcón is a writer I’ve long admired, in part for how he weaves complex cultural politics into quietly powerful narratives. (His luminous story collection War by Candlelight is a must-read.) “Second Lives” arrived with uncanny timing in this politically boiling August. At face value, its opening easily could be another rallying cry for the political far right, members of which have been stirring up anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hysteria from California to Texas to lower Manhattan.

Even by today’s standard of partisan politics, the hot wave of demagoguery hitting the country feels off the charts. Take the fear mongering of Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman who has been flogging the “terror babies” conspiracy on national television: Shadowy foreigners are plotting to give birth in the U.S., only to take their tots overseas, train them as terrorists and send them back decades later, courtesy of the 14th Amendment, to wreak havoc inside the country.

That this theory is plainly ridiculous, and has been debunked by FBI and U.S. Customs officials, is beside the point. As Ruben Navarrette Jr. wrote from Phoenix, this is political opportunism of a very scary kind.

You might say that Gohmert is just small potatoes. But what about more influential Republicans eager this election season to foment a crusade against Islam? The tactics aimed at the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” — which in name is pure invention — are no less craven. Newt Gingrich put a Hitlerian stamp on the proposed Muslim center in lower Manhattan: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington,” he said by way of egregious comparison on Fox News. No doubt Gingrich is pleased to be in lockstep with the cowardly Anti-Defamation League; he could scarcely do more to exploit fearful support from Jews than to evoke the Holocaust.

There seems to be not a shred of empathy or basic human decency in this dark political campaign. Oh, sure, some agitators will say that some of their best friends are Muslims — which should ring about as true and logical as pronouncements on CNN by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association: “I love Muslims, I am pro-Muslim. I am anti-Islam. I would say to a Muslim, ‘Look, your ideology is destructive, it’s deceptive, it’s dark.’” Or as Fischer also put it: “Islam is not a religion of peace. It is a religion of war, it is a religion of violence.”

In this war, Gingrich, Boehner and Cantor are the generals, the Fischers their captains on the ground. For them anything goes in the battle for congressional power this fall, the rising dangers of nativist provocation be damned.

Which returns me to Alarcón’s story. Against the multitude in the media recently (no shortage of fictions among them) it is an unwavering prick of light. It brims with the humanism that America’s darkly cartoonish politicos so palpably lack. As great fiction should, the story never directly grapples with the Big Political Issues, like immigration. Indeed, the politics here are personal, etched in the lives of characters coping with family struggle, romantic heartbreak and the daily challenges and amusements of assimilation. “Second Lives” is a portrait of a divided family gazing across the chasm between the Third and First Worlds — and it is a vivid reminder of what is really in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of America’s immigrant hopefuls.

“In school,” recalls Alarcón’s narrator, “my favorite subject was geography. Not just mine, it should be said.” He continues:

I doubt any generation of young people has ever looked at a world map with such a powerful mixture of longing and anxiety; we were like inmates being tempted with potential escape routes. Even our teacher must have felt it: when he took the map from the supply closet and tacked it to the blackboard, there was an audible sigh from the class. We were mesmerized by the possibilities; we assumed every country was more prosperous than ours, safer than ours, and at this scale they all seemed tantalizingly near. The atlas was passed around like pornography, and if you had the chance to sit alone with it for a few moments you counted yourself lucky. When confronted with a map of the United States, in my mind I placed dots across the continent, points to mark where my brother had lived and the various towns he’d passed through on his way to other places.

That dream of “other places,” of course, has everything to do with the greatness on which our immigrant-rich society has been built. The demagogues who have forgotten this truth, or who knowingly have traded it for the miasma of deranged politics, would do well to read and ponder Alarcón’s tale. It is so much taller, as it were, than any of theirs.

The coming war on Sonia Sotomayor

It’s already underway, of course. The attacks in fact began well before her nomination.

sotomayor-09wikipediaBarack Obama’s selection of Sotomayor for the Supreme Court weaves another bright strand into an epic of American political transformation — both a groundbreaking and politically shrewd move by the president. But don’t think for a minute that’ll stop opponents from fighting dirty and doing whatever they can to block her path to the nation’s top bench.

Since the announcement of her selection on Tuesday morning, many pundits have parroted the same silly theory: The tattered Republican Party, the reasoning goes, just can’t afford to attack the first Hispanic woman ever nominated to the court — not least because the GOP in recent years has screwed itself royally with the pivotal voting bloc she represents.

“Unless the vetting process missed something big that will turn sentiment against her,” wrote Chicago Tribune blogger Eric Zorn, “Republicans who try to stall or block the first Hispanic nominee to the high court will be stepping into what looks almost like a political trap — a way to further marginalize the GOP and identify it as the party of angry white people.”

Across the cable news networks on Tuesday, this same wishful thinking was flowing from liberal guests holding forth with Keith Olbermann and Larry King. The folly can also be seen in this post from blogger David Kopel at The Volokh Conspiracy, who points out the herd-like denial of lefty bloggers on the subject:

A special poll of bloggers from The National Journal asked “Would it be politically smart for Republicans to try to block the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor?” Among the Left bloggers, the unanimous answer was “No.” On the Right, 53% said “No” and 47% said “Yes.”

I voted “Yes,” and wrote: “The Democrats who tried to block Roberts and Alito appear to have suffered no adverse consequences. [And, I should have added, neither did the Dems. who filibustered Miguel Estrada, who, like Sotomayor, is a Hispanic with an impressive life story.] Sotomayor is on the wrong side of fairness, empathy, the Constitution and the American people in regards to firearms ownership (Maloney v. Cuomo; United States v. Sanchez-Villar); wealthy people using the government’s eminent domain power to extort money from small business (Didden v. Village of Port Chester); and a racial spoils system for government employees (Ricci v. DeStefano).

Conservatives know full well that the stakes with Sotomayor’s nomination go far beyond the next election cycle or perhaps a couple more years in the political wilderness. While her place on the Supreme Court’s political continuum (presumably somewhere left of center) wouldn’t be clear for some time, if confirmed, the 54-year-old judge is likely to serve for decades.

The battle began even before she was nominated. In a preemptive strike published in the right-wing magazine FrontPage in early May, John Perazzo played to racial fears in an article titled “The Next Token Justice?”

“Sotomayor considers her ethnicity of paramount importance,” he wrote. “She began consciously developing a sense of her ethnic identity as a young woman and has allowed identity politics to act as a lens through which she sees her jurisprudence. During her student years at Princeton University in the 1970s, Sotomayor became actively involved in two campus organizations devoted chiefly to the celebration of an ethnicity distinct from that of the white majority.”

While most Senate Republicans so far seem to be feigning polite caution about the nomination, former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee isn’t holding back:

Sotomayor comes from the far left and will likely leave us with something akin to the “Extreme Court” that could mark a major shift. The notion that appellate court decisions are to be interpreted by the “feelings” of the judge is a direct affront of the basic premise of our judicial system that is supposed to apply the law without personal emotion. If she is confirmed, then we need to take the blindfold off Lady Justice.

Rush Limbaugh wasted no time, of course, calling Sotomayor a “reverse racist” and “hack.” Newt is also in on that act, via Twitter. Others are running with “socialist,” thanks to an obviously sinister Norman Thomas citation Sotomayor used — for a college yearbook photo in 1976.

Sotomayor-yearbook76

Without a doubt the attacks, from low-down to laughable, are just beginning.

Sick with swine flu racism

The threat of a deadly swine flu pandemic appears to be fading, despite an outbreak of hype that one former CNN reporter says stemmed from the media’s “economic vested interest in promoting the fear.”

But fear may well be lingering — fueled by animosity toward Mexicans — thanks to a rash of comments from some of America’s nastiest right-wing broadcast personalities.

Ignoring news reports that some swine flu victims inside the U.S. likely contracted the virus during recent trips to Mexico, Fox News regular Michelle Malkin asserted: “I’ve blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration.”

“No contact anywhere with an illegal alien!” radio host Michael Savage warned listeners about the contagion threat. “And that starts in the restaurants,” he said, where you “don’t know if they wipe their behinds with their hands.”

As Media Matters for America reported, radio host Neil Boortz stoked fears of a “bioterrorist” plot, asking, “What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?”

Savage also ran with that idea: “There is certainly the possibility that our dear friends in the Middle East cooked this up in a laboratory somewhere in a cave and brought it to Mexico knowing that our incompetent government would not protect us from this epidemic because of our open-border policies.” He suggested terrorists may realize that Mexicans “are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America.”

limbaugh-studioRush Limbaugh ranted about an Obama administration conspiracy to use both the swine flu scare and the renewed debate over torture “to cover up the mess that is the United States of America right now.” (One wonders if he’s including Dick Cheney’s prominent role in the latter.)

While such ugliness from this bunch is predictable, it’s worth remembering that these folks have sizeable to large audiences. Moreover, the rank xenophobia underscores an uneasy truth: America has yet to contend in a serious way with its enormous immigration problem.

Obama continues promising to do so, as when he campaigned for president. The task, like many others since last fall, has been swallowed up in the nation’s economic maelstrom — but it’s inextricable. (So is overhauling health care in Obama’s view.) As Colin Powell emphasized when I interviewed him back in 2007 — not long after immigration had commanded headlines in a national election cycle — dealing with the issue is at once a moral and economic imperative. In an hour-long conversation covering much political ground, Powell’s comments on the matter stood out. We should do everything we can, he said, to admit people legally, dry up the flow of illegals and defend our borders. “But let’s recognize that these folks, whether legal or illegal, are making an enormous contribution to America’s well-being. They do the jobs that others don’t want to do.”

He continued: “It’s outrageous for us to take advantage of this population of 12 million people, to use them to cut our grass and build our houses and repair our streets, but keep them illegal and subject to deportation. That’s not equitable — that’s not America. We have to find a dignified way to work through with this population.”

With the swine flu scare, the unpleasant opportunism of the far right reflects how incredibly far we still have to go.

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