News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A slide into the morass

The Senate’s immigration reform bill is dead, as this column predicted on May 18. You don’t have to be a Washington insider to understand why this measure would fail. In fact, living in the heartland brings you closer to real picture: The passions the immigration issue has raised seem too intense for compromise.

“People on opposite sides of the political spectrum, in effect, banded together to defeat the middle,” said James G. Gimpel, a professor at the University of Maryland, in a June 9 New York Times article.

Where does the failure of this legislation leave us? Certainly on a more dangerous path. Without a sane resolution to the presence of at least 12 million undocumented workers, the opportunities increase for Anglo and Hispanic extremists to drive a wedge into the growing cultural divide between the U.S. mainstream and Latinos. The death of this legislation was celebrated by the Mexica Movement as well as The Minutemen.

Ire against immigrants is nothing new in U.S. history. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin’s rantings against the Germans flooding Pennsylvania in 1751, nativist scorn has been heaped on each successive wave of newcomers. Scandinavians, Poles, Jews, the Irish and Italians have all known the wrath of the descendants of immigrants already here who feel threatened by more recent arrivals.

Today’s migration from south to north presents a different challenge, however. Never before in U.S. history has a wave of immigrants had ancestral roots on U.S. territory. Unless the voices of reason prevail, the hate of today’s nativists could spark a generations-long conflict reminiscent of some of the world’s most troubled places. Without a humane resolution to the immigration mess, we could be setting the stage for a North American version of the bitter conflicts of the Balkans, Chechnya, the Basques in Spain, and the PLO.

Contrary to right-wing blather about a Hispanic “invasion,” the people who have crossed the border in search of a better life come here to change themselves, not change the country. The real danger comes from the self-fulfilling prophecy of nativist hate. If harassed, bullied and attacked, the majority of the Latino community will be easier prey for the small minority of separatists in some Hispanic communities. Repression and prejudice feed the cause of extremists on both sides of the cultural divide.

The death of the immigration reform bill was a failure of the political middle to overcome the passions of the extremists. It could also mark a deeper slide into a national morass.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

Author of America Libre