Hate Aimed at Latinos, Not Immigrants

U.S.-born Latinos in America are fed up. They're tired of the ugliness in the immigration debate, and they're not buying the argument that it does not concern them.

Take it from Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization. She recently delivered a passionate and important speech to the National Press Club in Washington. Her topic: the immigration debate and what she labels a wave of hate sweeping the land -- one that isn't limited to illegal immigrants, or even immigrants in general, but which is now splattering onto all Hispanics regardless of where they were born, what language they speak or what flag they wave.

"Most Latinos aren't immigrants," she said. "More than 80 percent of Hispanics in this country are U.S. citizens or legal residents. But the truth is, Hispanics understand that this issue is about all of us."

That's obvious. You might live in Colorado or New Mexico or Arizona and come from a family that has lived in the United States for several generations. And yet, your citizenship is being challenged by nativists who paint with a broad brush. All they see is your skin color or surname and, from this, they conclude that -- unless you go along with every harebrained scheme to combat illegal immigration -- you're, as one reader recently informed me, "an American in name only."

How do you suppose Hispanics will react? A middle-aged reader who describes himself as Italian-American recalls that when he was growing up and the Italian kids were picked on in school, it only made him feel "more Italian." It could be the same with Hispanics, he wrote.

Could be. According to Murguia, "two-thirds of Latinos say that the failure (of immigration reform) has made life more difficult for Latinos overall and roughly half say that it has affected them personally."

Part of the problem is that the right-wingers weren't content to just attack illegal immigrants. They had to attack an entire culture, which is shared by legal immigrants and U.S.-born Hispanics. And so, a discussion that should have been about exactly three things -- improving border security, smoothing the path for legal immigrants, and deciding the fate of 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States -- became about outlawing taco trucks, limiting the number of people in a home, blasting pizza parlors for taking pesos, banning Spanish language library books, and other nonsense.

The way Murguia sees it, immigration is "on the verge of becoming one of the largest civil rights issues of our generation."

Not to mention, an election-year issue. Arguing that the ugliness of the immigration debate "galvanizes the Latino vote," Murguia vowed that Latinos would fight back.

"We will not be demonized," she said. "We will not be scapegoated. And we will not be ignored."

You tell 'em, Janet. I've had my share of run-ins with the NCLR over the years, and lodged my share of criticisms of the organization. But not for the reasons that nativists, cable news demagogues, and right-wing columnists and bloggers attack it. I've argued that, for too much of its 40-year existence, the group has been too corporate, too cautious and too easily co-opted by foundations and Fortune 500 companies looking for an entree into the Hispanic market.

But in this case Murguia has a point. An ethnic group that has always answered the call to duty, and which boasts a higher ratio of Medal of Honor recipients than any other, deserves better.

That's what I'm hearing from many U.S.-born Hispanics. When they talk to me about the immigration debate, they condemn the hypocrisy of a society that is addicted to illegal immigrant labor but looks for others to blame for the addiction. As for the claim that much of this is about national security, they wonder why no one talks about building a wall along the U.S.-Canada border. They worry about racial profiling as authorities become more aggressive in rounding up illegal immigrants. They recognize the racism, and the assault on their culture, and they resent that they're being lumped together with recent immigrants. But at the same time, they find it easy to identify with the immigrant plight -- through their parents or grandparents. Most of all, they scoff at the claim that, as U.S.-citizens, this debate doesn't concern them and that the attack is limited to illegal immigrants.

Hey, no matter what side of the border we were born on, we weren't born yesterday.

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