The Jewish Week, January 16, 2008
There’s something about the immigration debate that arouses the passionate intensity of the worst among us, making otherwise smart people stupid and spawning demagogues like no other issue (“Jewish Groups Mostly Mute Over Immigrant Bashing,” James D. Besser, Dec. 21).
I’m speaking of self-proclaimed “liberals” who cannot discuss immigration without demonizing opponents, without resorting to vilification rather than argument, without trafficking in hysteria, not facts. One recalls Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “bigot”: “One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion you do not entertain.” Consolation comes from recognizing what prompts this: The rhetoric of the pro-amnesty/open-borders camp is so shrill and vituperative because they know they’re losing the battle.
Besser sketches an ugly caricature of the great majority of Americans simply because they disagree with him. Repeated surveys have found overwhelming support, not for amnesty, but for the attrition of the illegal population through vigorous law enforcement and secure borders. The great majority rejects the “comprehensive immigration reform” supported by the Jewish Establishment.
Americans revere immigration but draw a bright line between legal and illegal immigration. Most also find current immigration too high — the 10.3 million who’ve arrived since 2000 make the past seven years the highest period of immigration in U.S. history — and oppose the huge increases in legal immigration that the various “reform” bills called for. A 2006 poll found that only 2 percent thought immigration should be increased.
The reason isn’t xenophobia — no polling data, including longitudinal studies by liberal social scientists like Alan Wolfe, finds evidence of it. NumberUSA, the leading grassroots organization fighting the “comprehensive” approach, says “No to immigrant bashing” at the top of its homepage, while my organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, argues for a pro-immigrant policy of lower immigration.
Reading Besser’s harangue, one doubts he permits facts to challenge his ideological presuppositions or familiarizes himself with data that don’t confirm his worldview. He provides not a shred of hard evidence to verify the alleged groundswell of xenophobia or a single quotation by any presidential candidate to support his blanket indictment of their supposedly xenophobic rhetoric. His evidence? The unsupported opinion of two professors, one who “thinks you don’t have to scratch very deep to find xenophobia among the anti-immigration movement.” Does he “think it” or “know it? If he knows it, he can substantiate it.
Besser’s report is supported by a Jewish Week editorial in the Dec. 21 issue.
Leading the charge against xenophobic straw men is Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman, who can’t say “Armenian genocide” without adding a trivializing adjective. Foxman is defaming the American people and presidential candidates to regain the moral standing he squandered doing Turkey’s dirty work.
Isn’t it possible other Jewish groups are “mute” about “rampant” xenophobia because they don’t discern it? Instead of condemnation, most Americans deserve praise for addressing through the political system their unease over today’s historically unprecedented immigration, rather than by forming nativist movements or engaging in invective or violence. Multiple sociological studies find Americans more tolerant than ever.
Finally, as George Orwell perhaps understood best, the corruption of politics and of language are interconnected. Besser uses the terms “liberal” and “progressive” to describe supporters of “comprehensive immigration reform.” One wonders what sort of “progressive” would endorse a scheme concocted by President Bush, boosted by the Wall Street Journal and the nation’s most exploitative industries to create a permanent underclass of impoverished immigrants, thus reducing wages and worsening working conditions for America’s most vulnerable?
If you support a sordid scheme that devastates America’s working class and working poor, puts at risk our national security, environment and social safety net and surrenders national sovereignty, find another label for your beliefs.
Stephen Steinlight is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.