La Raza's Murguia and C-SPAN Callers from Ill. and N.J.

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on February 3, 2010

Janet Muguia, the National Council of La Raza's President and CEO, appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal yesterday, making a sales pitch for "comprehensive" immigration reform that would legalize illegal immigrants and provide channels for future flows of low-wage workers into the U.S. job market. She said her organization is "disappointed and frustrated" that President Obama skipped past immigration in his State of the Union Address.

An African-American caller from Waukegan, Ill., and a contractor from Blairsville, N.J., were not supportive.

Said the caller from Illinois on the line for Democrats: "I disagree with the lady. In my little town, Waukegan, the Hispanics have taken over. Every job you go to, it’s the African-Americans that's suffering in my town."

Said the caller from New Jersey on the line for independents: "I'm ... going to be running for Congress against illegal aliens, and I think they need to be removed. I'm a small business contractor. I work in the construction trade. Over the last five years, the Hispanic community -- the illegal community -- has completely decimated the value of American workers."

In her response to the first caller, Murguia was gracious, if vague. She claimed that the reform legislation she seeks "would go a long way to address these perceptions that somehow newcomers are taking away from others. I don't think that's the case at all."

In her response to the second caller, Murguia did not address the claim of harm being done to American workers. Instead, she spoke of the frustration Hispanic citizens feel at the "broad brush" that -- in the hands of some critics of illegal immigation -- paints Hispanics in unflattering colors. She cited the caller as an example.

Said Murguia, who grew up in Kansas: "He did something that is highly offensive to many of us in the Latino community who are citizens of this great country, You know, he equated the Hispanic community with the illegal community. ... We shouldn't be painted with that broad brush, we have fought for this country and died for this country and have a record of great patriotism and service to this country."

Murguia was expressing a frustration that I have often heard from Hispanic friends who are U.S. citizens, including some who think the government needs to clamp down on illegal immigration. Their complaint is heartfelt and legitimate. It deserves understanding and respect. They are, indeed, often the innocent victims of the frustration that many Americans feel at three decades of massive illegal immigration. While that frustration is also legitimate and deserving of respect, there are times when it is expressed in ways that are ugly and offensive.

In fairness to the caller from New Jersey, he appeared to correct himself. After first referring to "the Hispanic community," he caught himself and cited "the illegal community" as the source of his frustration. But in fairness to Murguia, she thought he was equating "Hispanic" with "illegal," and she expressed her anger with dignity and sincerity.

But at a time when so many citizens are unemployed or underemployed, and when participation of our young people has sunk to record lows, Murguia's inability to acknowledge that illegal immigrants and citizens are competing for jobs helps to explain why President Obama and Congress are showing no enthusiasm for immigration reform of any kind this year.

Topics: UnidosUS