My previous post on Hispanic immigrants proved prescient. As I write these words, Congress is debating sweeping new immigration legislation. The debate is tearing the Republican party apart, as it exposes two wildly contradictory wings of the party.
The first wing, which tends to call itself nativist, can be more accurately described as bigoted and racist. Led by ethically-compromised (and aspiring presidential candidate) Senator Bill Frist, these Republicans want to send Hispanic immigrants back to wherever they came from, before they move into their monochromatic neighborhoods and marry their lily-white daughters. They can make all the "we have to protect America" arguments they want, but the bottom line is that these narrow-minded, hate-filled, quasi-white supremacists hate people of color (any color), and would like to see an all-white America devoid of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and all other non-Western European descendants. (They probably don't like the French, either.) Frist and his intolerant ilk are the cleaned-up, pseudo-respectable, 21st century equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan. Short of lynching the Mexicans, they want to deport them.
Opposing these nativists/racists is the corporate wing of the Republican party. Led by the likes of Wal-Mart and other low-paying employers, these Republicans like Hispanic immigrants just fine. That's because the influx of Hispanic workers represent cheap labor to these bald-faced capitalists, and getting rid of them would mean they'd have to hire higher-salaried American workers in their stead. This profit-minded thinking has inspired "moderate" Republicans -- such as John McCain and Arlen Spector -- to endorse an amnesty program for those illegal aliens already here. Though the motivation may be less than pure, it's actually the best idea on the table, and has also been endorsed by the Democratic minority.
There are other Republican views on the issue, of course. President Bush tried to navigate a compromise between the two extreme wings of his party by proposing a three-year "guest worker" program, but the stupidity of the solution only served to piss everyone off. Then there are the security nuts, who think that building a big wall between the U.S. and Mexico will keep terrorists out of the heartland. (But why stop with Mexico -- how about another wall sealing off the Canadian border, and maybe stopping all incoming plane flights, as well?) These viewpoints seem to be subsidiary to the main argument, however, and don't factor much in the current debate.
It's kind of fun to see the Republicans tearing themselves apart on this issue. As noted in the new book American Theocracy, today's Republican party is a fragile coalition of competing constituencies -- much like the Democratic party has always been. But in the Republicans' case, what's good for one segment isn't always good for the others, so it's really just a matter of time before their "small tent" collapses. Social conservatives (religious or racist) can't long live with corporate fiscal conservatives, nor with power-hungry neo-conservatives. I give Bush (and Rove) credit for holding the coalition together, but it's a temporary collaboration that is now starting to fray.
On the immigration issue, here's what I think we should do. First, we need to treat our Hispanic visitors as human beings. That means offering citizenship to all who want it, and offering essential services to all who need them. Second, we need to pay these folks the going wage, so that they're not taken advantage of and so that their presence doesn't depress wages for native American workers. Third, we need to work with the Mexican government to improve living conditions (and increase wages) in our neighboring country, so fewer Mexicans are tempted to head north to better their lot.
Finally, we need to work much harder to assimilate both visiting and resident Hispanics into the American culture. Our latest immigrants are not blending into the American melting pot as previous generations of immigrants did, and that's not good for them or for our country. Our culture becomes richer when new immigrants are added to the mix, and those immigrants need to learn to live and to thrive in their chosen new society. It's not good for Hispanics to live in a parallel version of the United States; separate but equal has never been a winning strategy.
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.