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Immigration Reform: Bush and Republicans Appeal to White Supremacy

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As the immigration policy debate heats up in Congress, the US public has been bombarded by a steady stream of racist, anti-immigrant sentiments. Aside from false claims that immigrants "steal" jobs or public resources – corporations and corrupt politicians already have a tight grip on those criminal activities – right-wing pundits and Republican Party officials have turned up the heat against immigrants by appealing to white supremacist notions of race and culture. Some have even called for ethnic cleansing by means of mass deportations of "illegals" to "solve the problem."

President Bush's proposal to militarize the US-Mexico border with the already overstretched National Guard may be a precursor for more dangerous policies down the road. At best Bush's announced plan is a blatant pandering gesture to extremists in his party that want drastic action. Most likely, it is a preparation for more dangerous steps. Bush brags about having deported 6 million people – mainly immigrants from Central and South America. In a televised speech on Monday, he promised to increase federal government internal surveillance on working people and called for a "guest worker" program for undocumented workers, widely regarded as a legal license for employers to manipulate and control immigrant workers in a climate of fear without restraint. Congressional Republican proposals include criminalization of undocumented workers, their families, and those who aid them. These proposals also include requiring local law enforcement forces to become immigration police.

In recent decades, right-wing white supremacist beliefs have been steadily served up for public consumption by Republican politicians and their media allies. Opposition to civil rights measures such as the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, bilingual education provisions, and the like are ubiquitous racial planks in the GOP's platform and public statements. Other racist measures include opposition to federal hate crimes laws, continuing tantrums over school desegregation, attacks on public institutions that are a source of social welfare and at times job programs for African Americans and other minorities, and consistent abuse of African Americans as "welfare queens" and criminals.

Of course, many Republicans and their allies, depending on the audience, have toned down overt appeals to white supremacy in order to lure the growing number of African American and Latino voters to support their Party at election time.

For the most part, right-wing rhetoric is specially coded to appeal to the Republican Party's core white, upscale supporters. We need policies, their code says, to protect us from "them," wink, wink, nod, nod, nudge, nudge. "They" are stealing resources while we could have more tax breaks. Why waste money on paying for "their" schools? Let's put the garbage and toxic waste in "their" neighborhoods.

Since the recent emergence of politically charged public debate on immigration reform, however, some right-wing pundits have fully opened the valves and are letting their noxious bile spew forth unchecked and uncensored.

Michael Savage, for instance, who is well known for his racist, sexist, and homophobic diatribes, has recently directly appealed to white supremacist sentiments in airing his views on immigration on his radio talk show. During broadcasts last week, he described "the immigration invasion" as having a "racial element," stating specifically that "our brown brethren" are out to replace whites. Savage described whites as more "enlightened" than minorities, implying this gives them a right to rule and to use force to remain in the majority. He described immigrants from Mexico as "drug lords." For his part, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who was being interviewed during Savage's racist fit, appeared to agree with Savage.

Savage's argument ignored the question of jobs or wages. It had nothing to do with finding ways to improve life for workers in the US or in Mexico and other countries where economic hardships imposed by "free trade" agreements like NAFTA often make migrating to the US seem appealing. Savage's outburst had nothing to do with corporations that want to pay workers less in order to increase their profits, and that actively seek out workers in other countries to entice them here.

Savage accused immigrants from Mexico and Central America of "erasing the white person" and wondered "what will America look like?"

For good measure, in the next day's program, Savage proceeded to hurl anti-Semitic slurs at former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and homophobic attacks on government workers who might be gay.

One could easily say that Savage should wipe the spittle from his mouth and seek medical attention. He could be easily dismissed if he didn't have so much company and if the mainstream media weren't so willing to publicize these views.

Fox News mouthpiece John Gibson also chimed in last week. Reviving the "race suicide" theories of the anti-immigrant backlash of a century ago that have become the mainstay of white supremacist and neo-nazi organizations, Gibson lamented the declining relative birth rate of whites. Appealing to fears of the survival of white "civilization," Gibson urged his viewers to make more babies. Unfortunately for his dream of racial supremacy, the average age of his viewers is well past the normal human age of reproduction.

Of course, who would want to leave out Bill O'Reilly, a man who ad nauseam proclaims his immigrant heritage while denouncing new immigrants? O'Reilly recently accused pro-immigrant rights activists of trying to steal "our land" by weakening immigration laws.

In an interview with right-wing talking head Joe Scarborough, archconservative ideologue Pat Buchanan fumed about "Nuestra Himno," a Spanish-language version of the "Star Spangled Banner." He called the song an "insult" and described people who sing it as "these outsiders," adding that, "the American people are awakening to the character of these people."

Unfortunately, Buchanan forgot that the US government first translated the national anthem into Spanish in 1919, and that it was sung at political rallies for George W. Bush as a way to appeal to Latino voters in Texas. The Department of State also published Spanish versions of the song on its website. Buchanan often uses code words like "character" to refer specifically to racial identity. For him, a white supremacist, white America is the "character" he prefers.

Then there's new racist on the block, Glenn Beck, who was opportunistically hired by CNN recently to appeal to ultra-right viewers who might otherwise tune into Fox. Beck told his radio audience in April that immigrants are "terrorists" and "lawbreakers" and "want to do us harm." He described their home countries as "dirtbag" and wondered why people would accuse him of being "somebody who just hates Mexicans." Apparently, he is open to hating anyone from Latin America. (Thanks to Media Matters for America for transcriptions of the shows from which the above quotes were taken.)

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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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