You have to wonder, are people more afraid of what they don't understand or of what they know is true?
I'm talking about the opponents of a proposed hiring center for immigrant day laborers in the suburban town of Farmingville, New York. The center would provide a regulated, safe location for day laborers to wait for short-term work. Currently, the laborers -- mostly recent Mexican immigrants -- wait for potential employers on the town's sidewalks, leading to traffic and sanitation problems.
The truth of the matter is that workers who would use the center don't really care much about whether they have to stand on a street corner or inside a government building to get hired -- they just want a job.
What opponents of the hiring center do not understand is that the immigrants who come to Farmingville and other communities across the country are not a threat to the "American way of life." Instead, they are its very embodiment. These are people willing to work hard to get ahead. Isn't that what pulling yourself up by the bootstraps Americanism is all about?
Last week, Suffolk County -- where Farmingville is located -- killed a plan to provide $80,000 for the hiring center. But that will hardly resolve the issue. It will only deepen the rift between whites and the growing Latino population in Farmingville and all across the country.
As it turns out, all but one of the county officials voting against the hiring center are Republicans. Local Republicans apparently didn't get the latest memo from the party's top brass. Nationally, the GOP is reaching out to Latinos, including recent immigrants. James Gilmore, chair of the Republican Party, has just announced that his party has launched a major push to recruit Latinos and Catholics.
While the Republicans' national agenda does little to help the poor and working class -- where a disproportionate number of Latinos still find themselves -- Gilmore understands that bashing immigrants may win a few votes in the short run, but the practice would spell political suicide for the party's future. Remember the tactics of former Gov. Pete Wilson? He won reelection by scapegoating immigrants, but wounded the GOP's reputation so severely that California is now squarely with the Democrats.
As for the argument that opening a hiring center for Farmingville day laborers would only encourage illegal immigration, that's a little like claiming that opening a restaurant encourages people to eat.
What does encourage illegal immigration are the dual economic forces of a poor economy in Latin America and a surplus of jobs in the United States. People immigrate in search of jobs here because Americans are willing to hire them. That isn't going to change simply because they might have to stand in the rain to find work.
With the Farmingville decision now signed and sealed, it's what may happen next that worries me. Will the vote be read as a signal to anti-immigrant zealots looking for an excuse to launch a direct assault against the workers? Last fall's brutal beating of two Mexican day laborers in Farmingville is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the powerless.
Farmingville resident Ray Wysolmierski's suggestion that there should be a mass deportation of the region's illegal immigrants shows how ugly things could get before it gets better. Mr. Wysolmierski, how will the authorities identify undocumented workers? Should Farmingville police apply the crude and bigoted tactics used by police in Chandler, Arizona several years ago? They detained and arrested people -- many falsely -- because of the color of their skin or because, as one officer put it, "they smelled like immigrants."
Clearly, not everyone who opposed the hiring center is a bigot. Still, race has been a factor. For instance, Wysolmierski's Sachem Quality of Life Organization has the public backing of AmericanPatrol.com, a virulently anti-immigrant group headquartered in California. Newsday newspaper reported that "Sachem acknowledges" its ties to American Patrol, but says that group is merely "conservative."
Conservatism is one thing. Radically right-wing and racist is something else altogether. According to AmericanPatrol.com, Mexicans are plotting the "conquest of California," and this month, the group is sponsoring a photo contest for the "best video shots of people sneaking into the United States."
There may be legitimate arguments against opening a hiring center for day laborers in Farmingvillle, but the race or ethnicity of the workers should not be one of them.
Farmingville opponents need to face the truth. Their neighbors, their colleagues and their employers aren't going to stop hiring the undocumented workers. And that's why -- hiring center or not, America's immigrant workforce are here to stay. And that, my friends, is nothing to fear.
James E. Garcia is editor and publisher of PoliticoMagazine.com.