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Conservative’s New Immigration Lexicon

Feb
9
2006

When I heard Phyllis Schlafly talk about immigrants as a “subservient underclass” to the assembled “Conservatives” at the Omni Shoreham this morning, I had to ask if there was anybody she doesn’t love to hate. I had to guess that she got bored of gay-bashing and found a new love for xenophobia. But when I listened to Schlafly and others speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, I noticed that they’re singing a new song on immigration issues—one where the chorus is built around a civil rights message.
When most Americans hear Republicans talk about immigrants, it sounds like a four letter word. They break the law, take jobs from hard-working Americans and suck off the government dole. The reason that’s what we hear is because that is what so-called Conservatives have been saying since 1994, when California Governor Pete Wilson got re-elected on the coattails of Proposition 187.
But now, some Republicans are trying to re-frame the immigration issue to sound more like Democrats, calling it a civil rights issue. The argument, as articulated by the Center for Immigration Studies’ Mark Krikorian goes like this: We’re creating a permanent caste system in America with an under-educated and under-employed shadow workforce. Guest-worker programs, for example, are immoral, because they treat immigrants as “labor inputs”; they import workers from foreign countries to do backbreaking labor, just as America did when slavery was legal. Worker’s aren’t just a set of hands, they’re human beings.
The comparison between guest-worker or amnesty programs and slavery is compelling and hard to rebut, especially when conservatives tell you that by supporting the government sanctioning of this new pseudo-slavery, you are being socially subversive saying that more jobs should be considered below the dignity of Americans.
I can imagine Schlafly getting in the face of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and saying that by turning a blind eye to immigrants in his City, he is condoning a new, government-sanctioned slavery. If he didn’t slap her, I cannot figure how he’d respond.
But here’s where the conservative argument breaks down. The message that we should treat immigrants as human beings with dignity and personhood goes in contrast to the remedy that conservatives propose.
There is no dignity in militarizing our borders and no respect of personhood when the best you can offer is “go home.” As one speaker pointed out, to deport every illegal alien in America would take 200,000 busses and $200 billion…if you were able to round ‘em up like some have proposed (and, um, what about rounding ‘em up conveys a respect for human dignity, might I ask?).
Although it is impossible to reach a logical conclusion about immigration policy from the new course Conservatives are taking to frame the debate over immigration, it will be important for the President and others who hope their side will prevail to find a way to refute the contention that the Party hasn’t lost the spirit of Lincoln…the first Republican President.

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