Wonder why some of us insist that the present Republican-led debate on immigration is a race-based attempt to win votes during the upcoming close election?
Consider campaign activities organized by Morgan Wilkins for the Republican Party on the campus of the University of Michigan. College students were encouraged to play that wacky new game, “Catch an Illegal Immigrant.”
Contestants won prizes for capturing others who posed as illegal aliens. Student skills were tested by shooting BB or paint-ball guns at cardboard cutouts of top Democrats like Sens. Clinton and Kerry.
Not surprisingly, the “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” game caught the attention of the media. The Republican National Committee’s spokesperson, Brian Jones, began to back-peddle as fast as he possibly could, insisting that the RNC had no connection or association with Ms. Wilkins.
Yet Paul Gourley, chairperson of the College Republican National Committee, clearly stated that while it is true Wilkins is an independent contractor, she was hired by his committee to recruit students for the GOP. In other words, despite the protestations, she was working for the Republican Party.
Face it, the ’06 immigrants are the ’04 gays. During the 2004 August pre-Republican convention meeting, the Council for National Policy (the powerful organization that brings together the Religious Right and social conservatives) focused on how to use the gay-marriage issue as a wedge issue to bring out the conservative vote in swing states.
For the 2006 election, the immigrants–specifically Hispanic immigrants–have become the target of fear to motivate the Republican base to come out and vote against Latino/as and for Republicans.
Why else were the Senate Budget Committee’s so-called national fact-finding sessions held only in congressional districts that are up for grabs? Surely the Senate Budget Committee leadership already has all the facts they need to push through a comprehensive immigration bill. But they are not interested in finding facts. Instead, they spend taxpayers’ monies to hear from those hostile to the presence of Hispanics in this country.
Missing voices included experts on immigration, social workers who are in contact with the undocumented, anyone who actually is a Latino/as and Democrats.
And when some of us made requests to speak before these hearings, as was the case in Aurora, Colo., where I live, we were prevented from addressing our elected representatives. Obviously, the procedures were a blatant political sham to shore up the Republican base and stir opposition for Democrat-supported reform–not that the Democrats necessarily have a humane plan.
The night before Senate Budget Committee, community workers held an alternative hearing on immigration. I was honored to be among the panel collecting facts and information. I heard from gifted young teenagers who cannot go on to college because they lack a Social Security number.
A wasted gifted mind becomes a wasted troublesome life. I heard from local farmers who testified that half their crop was rotting in the fields because they could not find any Euroamerican willing to do the back-breaking work.
We heard from an economist who showed us that when you look at what immigrants cost along with what they produce tax-wise, they are responsible for building, not fleecing, our economy. For example, the $20 million-plus in Social Security taxes paid by the undocumented, that will never be reclaimed, will save retirement benefits for the next generation.
In short, we saw the human face of the issue as undocumented immigrants described their slave-like existence so that the few can continue to enjoy their economic privilege at their expense.
The next day, during the Senate Budget Committee hearing, a few of us held a news conference, only to have several from the anti-immigration groups aggressively crash it and hurl racial slurs at us, claiming Hispanics bring crime, disease and pollution.
I was amused to discover that not only was I bringing leprosy to this country, but Euroamericans who breathe the same air I do are at risk of contracting tuberculosis.
More interesting was the fact that of the 20-plus police officers there to keep an eye on us, all disappeared when we were being harassed and our safety threatened. But then again, the police were there to watch us, not those who threatened us.
What is the future of immigration reform? The issue will continue to be used to appeal to the racism of voters in order to get out the vote in ’06, just as homophobia was used in ’04. After the election, the issue will fade away.
After all, it is a hot potato. Republicans are fearful of a possible backlash from a growing Hispanic constituency. Maybe a fence, contracted to Halliburton, will be built to please the far right. But overall, we Hispanics will be shelved at least until the next election, when we are needed to create fear and get out the vote again.
Meanwhile, what should be the Christian’s response to the immigration debate? The phrase that appears the most in the Bible (after “do not be afraid”) is to take care of the “alien within your midst.”
Why? Because God reminds us, “You were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” As Bible believers, God’s word is clear. We are to care for the alien among us.
Are you ready to truly follow your God toward justice, regardless of the cost? Or do partisan politics trump the Word of God?
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.