No 'Fresh Air' on Immigration Politics

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on September 30, 2009

David Weigel is a talented young reporter who has written for The American Conservative and Reason magazine and is now with the Washington Independent. But his interview last week on the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air" with host Terry Gross revealed gaping holes in his understanding of the politics of immigration.

The purpose of the interview was to discuss Weigel's reporting on the conservative organizations which, under the leadership of Dick Armey, Grover Norquist, and others, have helped organize the popular uprising against a series of President Obama's initiatives. They have been most prominent in the revolt against the president's health care plan.

Much of the discussion was enlightening, especially on the influence of such figures as Glenn Beck and the late Cleon Skousen. But when Gross turned the discussion to immigration, a black hole of misunderstanding took shape.

Consider this response when Gross asked if FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, had a role in "organizing or participating in the tea party events and the 9/12 march on Washington," to ensure that illegal immigrants would not receive health insurance under any plan adopted by Congress.

Said Weigel: "Fear of illegal immigration is not something that people in D.C., in the beltway conservative movement care that much about, largely speaking."

Say what??!!

This is beyond understatement. To say that people like Dick Armey don't "fear" illegal immigration is about as insightful as saying they didn't "fear" the Bush-era tax cuts. In 2006 Armey's lobbying firm was hired by the Mexican Senate to promote the sort of "comprehensive immigration reform" backed by Sens. Kennedy and McCain. Now Armey chairs corporate-friendly, cheap-labor-promoting Freedomworks, whose motto -- "Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom," might as well be expanded to include "More Immigration." The organization boasts on its website that it was "one of the few conservative organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform," i.e., amnesty for illegal immigrants and increased immigration.

Adding to the nonsense pile, Weigel said this: "Freedomworks has never been that concerned about illegal immigration."

Also lining up with Kennedy and McCain was none other than Grover Norquist, an outspoken advocate of wide-open immigration who has been an immigration lobbyist for Microsoft. Norquist wants to ensure business has access to vast supplies of both skilled and unskilled labor. He also wants to sink social services for the immigrant workers. His battle cry: "Immigration Yes! Welfare No!"

Here's how Weigel opined on the geopolitics of illegal immigration: "It is something that motivates the base out there in the West, in the South, and places where there's not a huge influx of illegal immigration. They're still interested in horror stories about what could happen."

The mind boggles at this suggestion that concern about illegal immigration in the West and South is a paranoid delusion. Weigel needs to take a look at some facts on the ground. He could start with census figures and data assembled by world-class demographer Jeffrey Passel at the Pew Hispanic Center. Illegal immigration has exploded across the South and West since the early 1990s. Anxiety about the influx and the resulting strains on schools, neighborhoods, and hospitals is everywhere.

Here's some advice for the able David Weigel, whose journalistic future will be bright once he sharpens his reporting skills: Go West, young man! Then go South. Take a beyond-the-Beltway look at immigration, both illegal and legal.