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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The war at home

“There is a war here at home, and it is even more deadly than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Newt Gingrich—National Review, August 16, 2007

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is proposing federal legislation to check the immigration status of anyone arrested on a felony charge. As justification, Gingrich cites the August 4th execution-style killing of four college students in Newark, New Jersey by a group that included illegal immigrants. On the surface this seems a reasonable proposition. In reality, it is a politically-motivated grandstand play for the nativist vote.

“Far more Americans are being killed by violent, evil people here in America than in our official military “combat zones” overseas,” writes Gingrich.

This is true. More Americans die by violent crime at home than by enemy actions abroad. However, there is a between-the-lines message here that is inescapable. Gingrich and other nativists like him cravenly assume these domestic killings are being perpetrated by illegal immigrants—or more to the point, Hispanics.

Make no mistake. Gingrich’s bill is not about illegal immigration. The real goal of this proposed legislation is to harvest hate for political purposes. The Republicans have decided that the vein of fervent chauvinism unearthed by the immigration issue is too rich a political resource to pass up. Although small in number, the highly-charged nativist voices are a siren song Republican candidates seem unable to resist. But for every xenophobe energized by this bill, there is a moderate Hispanic who feels threatened.

Let me be clear: Hispanics are not a monolithic group. However, the bigoted actions of the nativist fringe could ultimately drive them into a unified bloc. Legislation of this kind divides people into hostile camps. The greatest danger we face is not crime from illegal aliens. It is the potential for civil strife incited by demagogues like Gingrich who mobilize the hate brigades for a "war at home."

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

To learn more about the uncanny parallels between reality and fiction, I urge you to learn more about America Libre, a novel of a national nightmare that presages many of today’s current events.