Sunday, January 31, 2010

The "Proud Racist": A Symptom of Deeper Problems

It has gotten a lot of press lately but does not appear to be fading away. As the L.A. Times reports,"[t]he controversy stems from a Jan. 16 anti-immigration rally in Santa Clarita; [Bob Kellar, a Santa Clarita City Councilman and former Mayor,] spoke and referred to a statement by former President Theodore Roosevelt that the United States has a place for only one flag and one language. Kellar said those remarks caused some people to accuse him of being racist, to which he replied: If believing in America causes people to think he's a racist, `then I'm a proud racist.'"  Check out a video here

Unfortunately, racism and nativism at some level influence the views of some people about immigration and affect the national immigration debate.  There are more Bob Kellars out there than we would like to admit.  But virtually any news reporter, columnist, and blogger who writes on immigration gets a sampling of muchg more blatant racist hatemail.  Check out the comments on many blogs or on many news stories on immigration if you want to get a sense of the racial sensitivities -- and, in some instances, raw hatred and racism -- in the discussion of immigration..

I would hope that we could turn down the volume on the hyperbole and dogma in the public discourse over immigration.  Only then can we engage in a much-needed constructive discussion of immigration reform.  Here are a few thoughts on how we might approach the issue of race and racism in discussing immigration reform.

In contemplating immigration reform, policy-makers and the public need to acknowledge that U.S. immigration laws and their enforcement have disparate racial and national origin consequences. This has been well-documented. It is rather obvious that the U.S. immigrations laws affect more people from Mexico than Denmark, from China than Iceland, from India than New Zealand, from the Philippines than Sweden. Importantly, many people of color from the developing world find it much more difficult than persons of European ancestry from the western world to come to the United States.

That is not to suggest that the current laws, as well as all changes to the immigration laws, which have disparate racial and national origin consequences, are per se racist. But it is to say that in formulating the laws the nation should be aware of the racial and national origin consequences of its immigration laws and reforms.

Because the racial impacts of the immigration laws and reforms often are clear, it is no defense to assert in advocating for tighter immigration laws and increased enforcement that that “we are not racist” but only focusing on securing the nation’s borders. Such appreciation and understanding of the racial and national origin impacts of the U.S. immigration laws is particularly important to Asians and Latina/os – U.S. citizens as well as noncitizens, who often feel nothing less than victimized by the current U.S. immigration laws and their enforcement.

Disparate treatment in immigration enforcement also must be recognized and remedied. The nation needs to do something to address the prevalent, and consistent, claims of racial profiling in immigration enforcement, especially but not limited to the American Southwest. This problem severely undermines the perceived legitimacy of the U.S. immigration laws and has certain communities convinced that the enforcement is arbitrary, unfair, and downright racist.

Part of the reason for the disparate national impacts of immigration enforcement is that the focal point of much immigration law is designed to deal with the “problems” associated with the U.S./Mexico border and migration from Mexico. Many Americans often forget, for example, that Detroit, Michigan is a major border crossing.

Moreover, race-based immigration enforcement by federal authorities effectively encourages vigilantes like the Minuteman to abuse immigrants and U.S. citizens of particular national origin ancestries. Such encouragement appears to have led certain state and local law enforcement officers to engage in like discriminatory conduct, as well as hate crimes by private citizens against Latina/os.

To help the U.S. immigration laws and their enforcement attain some degree of legitimacy among the public and noncitizens, as well as in the eyes of the world, efforts must be made to remove the taint of race from the law and their enforcement. In light of the deeply-embedded nature of racism in American law generally, as well as U.S. immigration law specifically, this task understandably is easier said than done. Still, this lofty goal, consistent with modern civil rights sensibilities, is worth shooting for in the long run.

Reforms should consider the racial- and nationality-based consequences before, not after enacting the reforms. Only then can Congress balance the relative costs (racial and otherwise) against the benefits of reform.


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