Is anyone old enough to remember the expression "Go back to Africa"? Can anyone remember when the lynchings of blacks and Asians and the hunting down of American Indians and Mexicans were commonplace?
Does anyone remember when Jews -- during the time of the Holocaust -- were turned away at this nation's borders? How about the Chinese Exclusion Act? Can anyone remember when the Irish, Germans and Italians were not welcome here?
This country has had a long and sordid history of xenophobia and scapegoat politics, which brings us to the current immigration debate.
Prior to this debate, I had not been aware that illegal immigrants were the No. 1 threat to the security of the most powerful nation on Earth and the cause of the majority of the nation's many problems.
It's amazing how we are all easily manipulated and corralled. All we seem to need is for someone to whip up the frenzy to permit the immoral discrimination against and segregation of human beings and to permit the mass incarceration of Japanese-American citizens or to conduct an Operation Wetback to send Mexican-American citizens "back to where they came from."
Not too long ago, it was George Wallace. Yesterday it was Pat Buchanan. Today it is the Three Amigos: CNN's Lou Dobbs and Republican presidential hopefuls Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter.
And it is amazing the lengths that people who have been formerly targeted by demagogues will go to to prove their Americanism. They seemingly scream the loudest when a new group has been targeted. One can hear the catharsis -- an incredible sigh of relief -- when they are able to point a finger at another group.
This time around, illegal immigrants are the target. They can't fight back or vote or even protest in public. And technically, they don't have a face. All the vitriol can be hurled against them without feeling guilty -- just don't say the word Mexican and you can't be accused of being a bigot. Besides, you have nothing against brown people, as long as they're legal, educated, employed (just as long as the job is not too good) and can speak English.
Consider the following: If the United States were to put up a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and if the 12 million nannies, busboys, gardeners and maids were deported, would the illegal and immoral war in Iraq immediately come to a halt?
If undocumented workers were deported, would gas prices go down, would it compel U.S. corporations to immediately institute a living wage for all workers, and would Congress pass universal health care overnight?
Contrary to what some have claimed, a recent study by the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center found that immigrants are much less likely to be imprisoned than U.S.-born residents of the same ethnicity. Another study, by the Public Policy Institute of California, has shown that immigrants are more likely to push up wages than depress them.
But who listens to facts anymore?
The urge to blame illegal immigrants or anyone else for the nation's problems is the result of the Bush administration's politics of fear, hate and blame. They've unleashed that dynamic, and now Americans have come to believe that their rights, livelihood and happiness depend on the denigration and dehumanization of their fellow human beings.
Perhaps the demagoguery is limited to a loud and rancorous minority of Republican ideologues; we do know that a majority of U.S. citizens support a path to legalization for this nation's undocumented immigrants. They do not want to continue to divide up human beings into legal and illegal categories.
It doesn't have to be this way; a simple transnational labor agreement could change all this. The drawback is that workers and their families would not lose their human rights, dignity or citizenship in the process -- so who would we then blame for the nation's problems?
Roberto Rodriguez of Madison offers a Latino/indigenous perspective on the Americas.
© 2007 The Capital Times