Commentary: Some oppose immigration in all forms -- legal or not

HANOVER, Ind. -- A lot of Americans think of the Southwest, and the U.S-Mexican border, as ground zero in the fever-pitched immigration debate. But the new ground zero is the South and the Midwest, areas of the country where the Hispanic immigran...

HANOVER, Ind. -- A lot of Americans think of the Southwest, and the U.S-Mexican border, as ground zero in the fever-pitched immigration debate.

But the new ground zero is the South and the Midwest, areas of the country where the Hispanic immigrant population has exploded in the last 15 years. A recent study by the Brookings Institution confirmed that more and more Hispanic immigrants, after crossing the border, are settling in traditionally non-Hispanic areas in states such as Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.

They're also settling in the Hoosier state, which this week hosted a three-day symposium titled "Immigration and American National Identity." The event was sponsored by the Center for Free Inquiry at Hanover College, the oldest private college in the state. I was invited to participate along with other speakers including Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. The center produces a lot of research, always with the same goal: to bolster its arguments in support of both eliminating illegal immigration and limiting legal immigration.

I agree with the first goal, but disagree with the second. After all, I have to wonder, what part of "legal" do these folks not understand?

But, hey, I'm just glad they gave me a chance to speak, especially since some people out there want me to shut up. There are those who say that for Latinos to involve themselves in the immigration debate is like having Germans help make plans for D-Day. They say that Latinos can't be trusted to act in any way that isn't self-serving. Basically, some would even say that Latinos aren't qualified to discuss the issue.


Where to begin? So much ignorance, so little time.

Apparently, as far as these nativists are concerned, the 40 million Latinos in the United States should just pipe down and pick vegetables. They want us to play Ingrid Bergman while the rest of America plays Bogie. We'll whisper: "You'll have to do the thinking for both of us."

Thanks, but I'll think for myself -- just like Krikorian does. During the few days we spent together, we even saw eye to eye on a few things. Who would have thought? He's a prominent voice in the immigration control movement, and I'm a frequent critic of immigration control measures that, in my opinion, range from the unrealistic to the unfathomable to the just plain un-American.

We both oppose importing new guest workers, and offering amnesty to those undocumented workers already here. We oppose the toxic proposal to deny U.S. citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants, and support the idea of cracking down on employers not just with severe fines but perhaps even going so far as to begin seizing assets -- something that even the toughest-talking members of Congress will support only when pigs fly.

Of course, we also disagree a lot. Krikorian recognizes that part of the problem is the "tension" between natives and immigrants, but he puts the blame mostly on the immigrants and gives natives a pass for their prejudices and resistance to change. He considers Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., to be a reasonable and reliable voice in this debate; I consider him an opportunist who panders to racists. And there's the main difference of opinion: Krikorian says he wants to limit legal immigration to the point where we admit only the spouses and young children of U.S. citizens, and I don't see legal immigration as something to be limited but something that should be encouraged.

And you know, I thought that's what the restrictionists wanted too. At least, that's what they've been telling me for over a year now -- all about how their only beef is with illegal immigrants who break the law and not legal immigrants who might only challenge our culture and customs. Could it be that it was all a ruse and that the problem many Americans have with illegal immigrants has as much to do with the "immigrant" part as with the "illegal" part?

But what I like about Krikorian is that he's obviously a smart and thoughtful guy who is trying to be reasonable in a debate where not many people are. If the two of us -- both grandsons of immigrants, an Armenian and a Mexican -- can find common ground, then there may be hope yet that this important national dialogue in which we're all embroiled doesn't have to end badly.

Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is ruben.navarrette@


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