Sunday, December 02, 2007
Two in GOP show way back to humanity.By Jeff Simpson, Sun columnist.
Last week’s column criticizing politicians for tapping into what I see as an unfortunate anti-immigrant groundswell generated dozens of e-mails and phone calls.
All except one were negative, as was one letter to the editor published by the Sun.
Even though most people disagreed with me, that isn’t what disturbs me.
It was the tone of their responses that worries me.
And the discussion of immigration in Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate was even more troublesome.
First, about my column responses.
Most of the calls and e-mails were angry, with folks telling me that I didn’t understand the difference between legal and illegal immigration.
They said businesses that hire illegal immigrants to capitalize on low-cost labor should be fined, and their executives imprisoned.
They said illegal immigrants drive up crime rates, don’t buy auto insurance and undercut American citizens’ wages.
Illegal immigrants refuse to learn English and turn nice neighborhoods into slums, I was told.
“You go live with those people for a couple of months and see what you think,” one Korean War veteran told me.
He suggested the federal government build a bunch of stockades so all 12 million illegal immigrants can be rounded up and shipped — on battleships — back to their homelands.
A former Las Vegas cop said the valley’s illegal immigrants cause a majority of street crime.
One woman e-mailed to tell me that people in her neighborhood don’t speak or understand English and get angry with her when she doesn’t understand their Spanish.
And almost every one of the callers and writers told me they will be paying especially close attention to what presidential candidates plan to do about illegal immigration, beyond better protected borders.
They want candidates who promise to provide absolutely no services to illegal immigrants, even health care and education.
And they want a president who will kick illegal immigrants out of the country, pronto.
Based on the tough talk coming from the Republican presidential candidates at their St. Petersburg, Fla., debate, those who are angriest about illegal immigration have reason to feel good.
Far right, third-tier candidates like Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter tried their best to make sure no one outflanked them.
Tancredo said he’s opposed not only to illegal immigration, but also to what he called “massive legal immigration,” which he said “makes it difficult for us to assimilate” and takes jobs from American workers.
Hunter amusingly claimed credit for the border fence that separates San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico.
“I built that border fence, and it does work,” he crowed.
Front-runners Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani sparred over whether New York was a sanctuary city that protected illegal immigrants from deportation during Giuliani’s tenure as mayor, with Romney saying it was.
The feisty Giuliani retorted that Romney’s landscaper employed illegal immigrants, and called Romney’s home a “sanctuary mansion,” a funny line that didn’t go over that well with the audience of pro-mansion Republicans.
But the most troubling comments came during a back-and-forth between Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is surprising folks with a strong challenge to Romney’s lead in Iowa polls.
Romney criticized Huckabee’s defense of an Arkansas college scholarship plan that allowed the children of illegal immigrants who had attended Arkansas schools to qualify and compete for merit-based scholarships.
“It reminds me of what it’s like talking to liberals in Massachusetts, all right,” Romney said. “They have great reasons for taking taxpayer money and using it for things they think are the right thing to do.”
Huckabee defended the plan and said the children of illegal immigrants shouldn’t be blamed for their immigration status.
“We’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did,” Huckabee said. “We’re a better country than that.”
Aside from Huckabee, the only other Republican who seemed to have the backbone to stand up to the anti-immigrant feeling was Arizona Sen. John McCain, who said: “We need to sit down as Americans and recognize these are God’s children as well and they need some protections under the law and they need some of our love and compassion.”
The strong response provoked by my column last week makes it even more clear to me that tapping into the anger of the anti-illegal-immigrant camp will be too tempting for politicians to resist.
After watching the Republican debate, I’m even more worried about what that means for America.
And American business leaders — especially in agriculture and in two industries crucial to Las Vegas, construction and hospitality — should also be concerned, as it looks more and more likely that the nominee of their preferred party will have committed himself to policies that will cut off the flow of low-cost undocumented workers they’ve relied on to pick their fruit, build their homes and clean their hotel rooms.