"La Bamba", a Mexican folk song that in 1958 was turned into a pop hit by Richie Valens, observes that in order to climb to heaven you need "a big ladder, and another smaller one". It adds that to dance "La Bamba" you need "a little grace". This week, I received a message from Cornell law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr that provided a measure of both of those wondrous tools. They will be necessary if there is to be compromise in the national battle over immigration policy.
Let me explain.
To work at an organization like the Center for Immigration Studies is to be subject to routine accusations of being "anti-immigrant" because we believe that a coherent immigration policy requires enforcement of the law and because we believe that legal immigration should be reduced from its current level of about one million new permanent residents every year.
The accusation is untrue but effective. It is used to shut down discussion by reducing us to a caricature of snarling racism and xenophobia (two other terms of opprobrium that are frequently lobbed at us). Who wants to listen to the ideas of racists?
So I was encouraged by Justice Anthony Kennedy's admonition this week that our country needs to face up to its "responsibility to base its laws on a political will informed by searching, thoughtful, rational civic discourse."
That's why I decided to write to Cornell law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr after reading his statement to the New York Times that the Supreme Court decision upholding part of Arizona's S.B. 1070 "has given other states a green light to try to enact similar immigration laws" and that "some will be anti-immigrant, like Arizona's."
In the e-mail, I identified myself as a CIS research fellow who had lived in Arizona for many years. I told him I thought that it was incorrect to label as "anti-immigrant" a law that is explicitly directed at illegal immigration.
I added this:
In a similar vein, and as someone who has written about fraud in defense appropriations and about the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980s, I don't think it is appropriate to label efforts to reduce the Pentagon budget as "anti-defense", or efforts to regulate risky use of federally insured deposits as "anti-capitalism"
Professor Yale-Loehr sent me a ladder with this note of grace: "You are correct. I will try to be more careful next time and refer to Arizona's law as a law directed against illegal immigration. Not as good a sound bite as anti-immigrant, but more accurate."
I've been singing "La Bamba" ever since.